by Dan Ellis
George T. Watson has lived a life committed to public service and promoting the common good for individuals from all socioeconomic levels in our community. He realized at a young age that education plays a fundamental role in empowering groups and uplifting entire communities.
Having been brought up in the segregated South, Watson experienced firsthand the struggles brought on by inequity within communities. Complacency has never been an option for him, and he has devoted his life to mitigating the ravages of social mores and institutional policies that promote imbalance. Watson’s ambition and perseverance have led him to inspire and uplift thousands of young, disenfranchised young people throughout our community.
Watson, a prominent native of the Pass, graduated from Randolph High School in 1943, and was drafted for duty with the Marines during World War II. Upon discharge he went on to pursue his B.S. Degree from Alcorn A&M College graduating with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude and accepted a teaching position at Grenada, Mississippi until 1955. He then took leave to join the Douglas Aircraft Corporation in California as an aircraft designer where he also completed his Masters Degree at the University of California. Following his return to Grenada for a new teaching engagement, George was appointed Principal in 1961 at his Alma Mater, Randolph High. He was elevated to Federal Coordinator for the School District.
Watson, from early on, began his participation as a volunteer in Pass Christian. In 1964 he was Co-Chairman with the Heart Fund Campaign and in 1968 was appointed a member on the Park Commission. One position he could never forget, was as a Civil Defense Shelter Coordinator when Hurricane Camille cut its path through town.
Alerted to his Hurricane emergency duties, he put out a call to some 300 citizens to gather at the Pass High gymnasium. As the winds increased, concern for safety in the Gymnasium was raised and it was decided to move the evacuees to the main school building. Immediately, the winds hurtled debris upon the structure as everyone uttered prayers for protection. With the morning sunlight they realized that their prayers were answered. Upon filing out, they all evidenced the demolished Gym in which they had first sought shelter.
Following Camille’s vast destruction to buildings resulted in Pass Christian becoming the first community in the United States to voluntarily create a single school system with a population ratio of Whites greater than Blacks. Pass townsfolk readily agree that Camille was a two-edged sword, grievous destruction on one side while purging potential strife in race relations on the other. With the resumption of school openings in late 1969, everything was peaceful and has continued as such ever since.
In 1972, George was appointed Assistant Superintendent for the Pass Christian School District. In recognition of his many accomplishments, in 1978, the Rotary Club presented him the Outstanding Citizen of the Year award. In 1980, Governor William Winter appointed him to the State Board of Trustees for Institutions of Higher Learning In 1981, Governor Winter gave further recognition to George in a talk at Pass High.
Long a member of the United Way Campaign, in 1984 Watson accepted the lead position in heading up fund raising for West Harrison. In 1988, he was singled out once more with a Gubernatorial appointment. Governor Ray Mabus appointed him Southern District Commissioner for the State’s Public Service Commission. In the same year Alcorn State University presented him with its Distinguished Achievement Award. In 1991, he was honored with the University of Mississippi’s Annual Award of Distinction. In 1995, George was honored again by being named an Advisory Director to the Hancock Bank and later served on the Harrison County Tourism Commission.
In 2014, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Biloxi, honored George Watson and Samuel Sylvester Jr. of Pascagoula and for their service in World War II. Watson and Sylvester were part of the Montford Point Marines, an elite group of African-American soldiers.
“These first African American Marines stepped up to serve at a difficult time in our nation’s history,” Palazzo said. “As a Marine veteran, I consider it an honor to recognize the service and lives of these men.” They were each presented with a Congressional medal and a certificate of status.
And in 2016, Watson was one of two Coast residents to receive Heritage Awards from Mississippi Power. The honorees were selected for their commitment to civil rights. George Watson has demonstrated courage and leadership in overcoming the throes of bias and discrimination by prevailing in spite of early adversities. He is a compliment to the city, the county, the state, the nation and to his people.
Some people have the energy and grace to age with great quality. George T. Watson remains one of these people. Now retired, he has reached another apex of success in his life and continues to put his vast and noble community experiences, and his in-depth devotion to noble causes. Indeed, his City, his County and his State are greatly indebted to him.
Watson has a wing named in his honor at The Randolph Center on 315 Clarke Avenue.