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Sun, 02.08.1931

Katie McWatt, Educator, and Activist born

Katie McWatt

*Katie McWatt was born on this date in 1931.  She was a Black Community Activist, Educator, and administrator. 

From Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kathleen Ann Curry was the daughter of an auto mechanic from a farm near Hastings, Minnesota. As a child, she was the only Black girl at her school and was often subjected to racial slurs.  In the first grade, she was followed home by a group of white children who threatened to lynch her.  The support of her parents and especially her grandmother, who told her she would "make chicken soup" of the children threatening her gave her strength. These experiences opened her path to activism; she once said, “I had a great desire then to change people... It starts very early."  

As a teenager, her determination sprouted into defiance in junior high school essays about racial inequality, and she wanted to persuade people to change with her words. She majored in speech at the University of Minnesota, where she met her husband, Arthur Chandler McWatt, a St. Paul schoolteacher and author.  During the early 1960s, McWatt and a lifelong friend, Josie Johnson lobbied lawmakers to outlaw housing discrimination.  Frustrated with racism, in 1964, she ran unsuccessfully for St. Paul City Council, the first African American to run for public office in the city. In 1968, she lost in a run for the state House.  

McWatt traced her fighting spirit back to her childhood.  In 1969, McWatt, wearing a hard hat, along with nearly two dozen other protesters, jumped into a ditch to protest the lack of black workers on a city sewer project.  McWatt was arrested. The construction firm hired seven blacks.  Over the years, McWatt became a grandmotherly figure who could still fire up a room with a speech but also could instill a calming effect. She brokered peace among rival gang members in city schools and much more.  

From 1987 to 2004, she worked as St. Paul Central High School's Minority Education Program coordinator.  There, she guided a generation of young black students who still speak fondly of her potluck meals and inspirational discussions with African American professionals.  McWatt served on the St. Paul Urban League and was the first chair of the St. Paul Housing Committee. She was vice chairwoman of the Ramsey County Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. She served on the boards of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, League of Women Voters, Catholic Interracial Council, Catholic Social Services, and St. Paul NAACP.  

She was inducted into the DFL Women's Hall of Fame, won an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, and was named a 2007 Volunteer of the Year by the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board. From her 1960s battles against housing discrimination to the 21st-century struggle to add three University Avenue stations along the planned Central Corridor light-rail line, McWatt had a near-legendary standing in the capital city's African American community.   

Before she died, Katie McWatt drew her longtime friend Josie Johnson close and told her, "I want my people to know I loved them and loved doing the things I did for them." Katie McWatt died on April 19, 2010.   


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