John S. Watson (1924-1996) was the first Black to win a countywide election in Mercer County when he was elected to the Board of Freeholders in 1970.
He was the father of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), the first Black woman to represent New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Watson, a World War II veteran, served on the freeholder board for twelve years. He became Freeholder President in 1977.
In 1981, Watson was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly after legislative redistricting divided Trenton and Hamilton into different districts that created two open seats in the 15th district.
He served as chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the first Black to lead the Assembly’s most influential panel.
Watson was politically strong enough to withstand the 1991 Republican wave that followed Gov. Jim Florio’s decision to back a $2.8 billion tax increase.
His running mates, State Sen. Gerald Stockman (D-Trenton) and Assemblyman Gerald Naples (D-Trenton), lost to their Republican challengers. Watson held on by a narrow 135 vote margin while Naples lost by 5,010 votes in one of the state’s most heavily Democratic districts.
Watson served six terms in the Assembly before retiring his 1993.
He died in 1995 at age 71, two years before his daughter won his old Assembly seat.
This story was first published on January 18, 2021.