A Man Who Defined Forgiveness: Rev. Wade Watts

Reverend Wade WattsWhen hurt by someone all of us find it hard to forgive, forget and move forward. The thought of making a positive change in the life of the person who has hurt you would be the farthest from our minds. The story of Reverend Wade Watts is one that shows us the power of forgiveness and how the results of forgiveness cannot only change your attacker but the entire world. Below is the account given from the person who was transformed from his attacker to his best friend.

Wade was very prominent in community affairs, shaping the destiny of Oklahoma from 1968 to 1984 serving as both the Oklahoma State President of the N.A.A.C.P and Executive Director.

During his many years of community service he was appointed to the Civil Rights Commission under President Lyndon B. Johnson where he served five years. He served four years on the Oklahoma Crime Commission, five years as Chaplain at the Okla. State Penitentiary and Human Rights Commission. Throughout his career, he received numerous awards and commendations. He retired as Labor Inspector from the Oklahoma State Labor Commission in 1982. Although retired from an 8-5 job, he never gave up his desire for active public service. He continued to Pastor the Jerusalem Baptist Church in McAlester, Ok. until his health failed him.
Rev. Watts was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1965 participated with Dr. King in the march for freedom, justice, and equality in Selma, Alabama.

As a civil rights leader, Reverend Watts had his share of trouble with the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan marched around his house and burned a cross on his lawn. The Klan burned one of his churches down and tried to burn another one a few years later. Wade had taken the Klan on in court and won by getting an injunction against the Klan that stopped them from burning a 45 foot cross on the outskirts of McAlester. Wade was surrounded by the Klan in a roadside diner where he was told by the Imperial Wizard at that time “whatever you do to the chicken on your plate, the Klan will do to you.’

Wade looked at the KKK members standing about him wearing their signature K.K.K. t-shirts and calmly picked up the chicken and kissed it! Needless to say, the men did not keep their promise. Even members of the KKK broke out in laughter over Wade’s response to their threats. On another occasion, he went into a cafe in Ada, Oklahoma with his friend, Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe, where he was stopped at the door by the waitress. She proceeded to tell them they did not serve Negroes there! Wade told the woman, “Ma’am, I don’t eat Negroes anyway, just give me some ham and some eggs!”

Wade told Senator Stipe that he had one wish…..to meet face to face with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He got his wish in the form of a nationwide radio debate with the Imperial Wizard. It was the meeting that ultimately, and over some time, would change the heart of Johnny Lee Clary, Imperial Wizard of the KKK. Wade and Johnny became best friends and Johnny is even Godfather of Wade’s daughter, Tia.

Rev. Wade Watts passed away, Dec. 13th, 1998. The night he passed away, two of his daughters heard him talking as he laid in bed. They heard Wade say “Thank You, Sir!” They asked him, ” Dad, who are you talking to?”, since they were the only ones in the room with him. Wade replied, ” I am talking to Jesus. He said He is coming to take me home.” The nurse came into the room, and asked Wade what he would like for breakfast in the morning. Wade replied, “It don’t matter, hon. I’m not going to be here for breakfast because Jesus told me He is coming for me.” That night, Wade died in his sleep.

Rev. Watts was like a father to me. I am grateful for all the years I had with him, and for all the wisdom and knowledge he passed on to me. He told me that he was passing me his mantle. I do not feel worthy to take it up; however, if he thought that much of me to invest all those years of time and wisdom into me, then I owe it to the memory of him to fight racism and continue his works. Wade and I always called one another “Old Partner”. I will miss him for the rest of my life, and will never forget him.
–Johnny Lee Clary
From www.johnnyleeclary.com, the website of former KKK Imperial Wizard and present evangelist Reverend Johnny Lee Clary.

19 Responses to “A Man Who Defined Forgiveness: Rev. Wade Watts”


  1. 1 RegiVizz August 17, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Came to this post via the “Oklahoma” tag. Love the chicken story! Great excerpt about a great man.

  2. 2 Ester August 16, 2009 at 6:57 am

    What a great story about a great man. I along with others was with Rev. Watts at the radio station the night he and Johnny went on the air to discuss inter-racial marriages. I remember how gentle and kind Rev. Watts was as he gently led Johnny as well as the rest of us through the scriptures. I was at Jerusalem the day Johnny came and apologized for the things he had said and done, and joined Jerusalem Baptist Church, in McAlester Oklahoma. What a day!

  3. 6 maggie barnard February 14, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I did not know Pastor Watts, I saw Johnny Clary on Frances and Friends and what a testimony of Pastor Watts it was. I wish I had known such a great person. I wish others and myself could be like Pastor Watts. What a mighty work this man has done and an inspiration to the world. I felt such compassion and love for this man and for this Johnny Clary.

  4. 7 Brian Castle February 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I also saw Frances and Friends we all need to know Jesus as these two men knew an know him

  5. 8 lynn June 1, 2012 at 4:54 am

    WOW! what a great witness for Jesus Christ..when I heard the story of both men,,I could not stop crying..I pray that God gives me the strength in opposition times..

  6. 9 bigG October 9, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Wow Rev Wade Watts is an amazing man.

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  10. 13 Mark February 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I was a boy in Mcalester and had heard of Rev. Watts but until today never knew just what a real man he was. Thank you.

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    What a marvelous man. A heroic spirit and a perfect example of how to be a christian.

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    I searched for a bio after reading his poem ,Don’t Quit. Some people are givers, I hope I too will be a giver.

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