Robert Leander Watson Sr. was born November 17, 1921, in Macon, GA. At an early age, the family moved to Detroit, MI where he attended grammar school and later graduated from Cooley High School. Upon graduating from High School, Watson started his business as a landscaper.
In 1942, he began to work at the Packard Motor Co. as a janitor. There he started to fight for equal job opportunities because the company would not hire Blacks to operate machinery. He was instrumental in organizing a strike to correct the inequity, and as a result, the machine shop was opened to Blacks. Watson left Packard in 1948 to become an entrepreneur and a small business owner. He was a life insurance salesman, had a shoe repair shop and dry cleaners.
Watson returned to the automotive industry and began working for Chrysler Corp. He became very active with the UAW and Fair Practices Committee and subsequently moved to Wilmington, DE in 1957 to continue working for the Chrysler Corp. There he became Chairman of the Fair Practices Committee and served for 23 years. He was also the State Chairman for Region 8 for the UAW Civil Rights Division.
Since the first strike at Packard Motors, Watson has demonstrated, picketed, and marched many times for equal housing, public accommodations, and restaurant services. He has participated in many sit-ins and demonstrations. He is a firm believer in quit dragging your feet, pick them up and go forward. Watson has said for many years if he is needed today to march, demonstrate, or picket, he is ready.
Watson and four other visionaries started Chryco Newark Federal Credit Union (American Spirit Credit Union) in Newark, Delaware. Many Chrysler workers were having trouble obtaining financial services in the 1960s and therefore desired to have their own Financial Institution. This gave them the opportunity to have services provided that they needed. He was Chairman of the Credit Committee, served on the Supervisory Committee, and has held the positions of Secretary, Vice President, and President. He has been a credit union volunteer since the credit union started in 1963, and served on the Board for over 50 years.
Watson’s vision and belief are that people of color are knowledgeable and capable, and can make a significant impact if they are given an opportunity. He was instrumental in pressuring management to create a diversified workforce at American Spirit and was instrumental in the hiring of the first minority at the credit union in the ’60s. Watson got involved with the Credit Union because he wanted to give back to the community by educating and helping people to fulfill their dreams. He stated that the credit union has educated and helped teach many members how to help themselves.
He continued, “…the credit union has also taught me a lot too. People come together to help one another, some come here to save… and others to borrow. It’s rewarding when you help others—we’re volunteers, the board, the supervisory committee, and loan review board… we volunteer because we care. If we didn’t have volunteers, the cost for credit union products and services would be much higher.”
He is a member of Coleman Memorial United Methodist Church where he serves with the Men’s Ministry.
At 95 he is still active with the UAW retirees.
He was married to Lillian L. Watson for 74 years and they have four children.
Watson has given back to the community in a huge way through his devotion, fairness, and dedication, and this exhibits his commitment and passion to serve and encourage others to grow financially.