The Crusader Newspaper Group

Arrangements pending for Frank Watkins, Rainbow PUSH policy director

Frank Watkins with Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr

Funeral arrangements are pending for Frank Watkins, former policy director for the human and civil rights organization Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Watkins died September 12, in Washington, D.C. after a lengthy illness.

He suffered from a “combination of COVID and pneumonia that proved too much” said Reverend Jesse Jackson, Rainbow PUSH’s founder.

He called his longtime associate a “true hero and a true friend” who will be “terribly missed.” Jackson said Watkins left “with his boots on,” fighting against voter suppression and for equity for Blacks.

Watkins was Jackson’s writer, policy director, advisor, political strategist, and personal friend for more than 50 years. News of his death pained Jackson who said the organization “lost one of the greatest of its heroes” and that with Watkins’ passing he had lost a “piece of my soul.”

The entire Rainbow PUSH Coalition staff continues to mourn the death of the 79-year-old civil rights activist, the longest-serving employee of the historic civil rights organization.

It was Watkins, a graduate of the Chicago Theological Seminary, who helped Jackson form Operation Breadbasket in 1969, and who was responsible for crafting the many corporate covenants Jackson proposed, which resulted in the hiring of African Americans.

Betty Magness, Illinois political director, described Watkins, who was white, as “a political guru.” She remarked that her memories of Watkins go back to when they taught political education classes.

“Frank taught Research I & II and I taught Communications. Alice Tregay and Leon Davis were the leaders. A great number of graduates went on to be elected officials.”

Shelley Davis, national political director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said Watkins “was a part of the quilt that is now the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. I have known Frank for two decades, and his passion and commitment to equal access for voting rights never eased.

Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), who once volunteered her services at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, is also in mourning over Watkins’ death.

“Frank was a brilliant political strategist and a courageous social justice warrior. It was an honor to work with him as he humbly sought to serve humanity. May he rest in peace and power,” said Collins.

Alanna Ford, executive assistant to both Reverend Jackson and Bishop Tavis Grant, national executive director, said, “He was always engaging and a wealth of information. He could write a book faster than we could blink our eyes.

“We were always in awe of him because of the plethora of history and statistics he was able to rattle off at any given time or place on any given subject. We all sought to emulate his memory and grasp of politics, religion and history,” said Ford.

“I saw ‘Uncle Frank’ in action, and he had game,” Ford said admiringly.

Reverend Cameron Barnes, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, knew Watkins as well.

“Frank Watkins was the walking political encyclopedia. He was more than a staffer of Rainbow PUSH. He was the backbone of it. He had every state drawn up, from population breakdown to the results of its last election, and everything in between,” said Barnes.

“From his home, he knew the political state of any American territory. He was, and to me still is, the pinnacle of political expertise.”

Reverend Paul Jakes, pastor of the New Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church, said Watkins reminded him of a “voice crying out for justice in this nation.”

“Brother Frank Watkins was also a faithful minister of the gospel, fulfilling Dr. King’s dream that whites, and Blacks can work together, march together and stand up for justice together.

“Brother Frank didn’t have to work with Reverend Jackson, but he did. He could have easily blended into white society and been comfortable,” Jakes said. “Rather, Frank Watkins had the character and the will to let his light shine.”

Jakes said, “He was a true voice in the wilderness for justice.”

Recent News

Scroll to Top