Over 18 years ago J.C. Watts became the first African American selected to respond to the State Of The Union Address. The Oklahoma native was born Julius Caesar “J.C.” Watts, Jr. In 2002, Watts declined to run for re–election to the 108th Congress (2003–2005), citing a desire to spend more time with his family, who had remained in Oklahoma during his tenure in Washington.
“This business is hard on families,” he admitted. “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. There are other things I want to do and can do. You have to be careful about getting on this treadmill.” Prominent Representatives of both parties implored him to stay, recognizing that his unique position brought diversity to the House. “I hate to see him go,” noted CBC Member James Clyburn of South Carolina, a prominent Democrat. “J. C. is someone who really has been quietly and forcefully doing a lot of good.” Civil rights leader Rosa Parks, who, in 1955, famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, wrote to Watts. “If you can,” Parks implored him, “please remain as a pioneer on the Republicans’ side until others come to assist you. I am glad that I stayed in my seat.”49 Though appreciative of the support, Watts noted that “the strength in this business is not hanging on. The real strength is to let go.” Watts’s political ally, Republican Tom Cole, won his congressional seat in the 2002 election. Though Watts left Congress, he did not abandon the political spotlight. He formed a consulting business and currently serves as a nationally recognized political analyst.