Melvin H. Watson, 98; Pastor Influenced Civil Rights Leaders

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The Rev. Melvin H. Watson, 98, who influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and helped train other civil rights leaders, died June 19 after surgery at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, said Walter Earl Fluker, executive director of the Leadership Center at Morehouse College there and Watson’s son-in-law.

As senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Atlanta and a religion professor at Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Religion and the Interdenominational Theological Center, Watson exerted a quiet influence for more than half a century.

Many of his students became civil rights leaders.

“He was one of the great teachers of his generation, and his teaching skills and mentoring capacity was as comprehensive outside the classroom as in the classroom,” said the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. of Cleveland, who studied with Watson.


King turned to Watson for advice when studying at Boston University and serving as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., Fluker said.

An Atlanta native, Watson received a master’s degree in sacred theology from Oberlin Graduate School of Theology in 1934 and a doctorate in theology from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. He began teaching at Morehouse in 1946.