Mary Louise Watson, pioneer of Nashville's desegregation era, dies at 99

Posted at 9:45 AM, Dec 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 10:45:09-05

Mary Louise Watson, a significant member of the desegregation era in Nashville, has died. She was 99. 

Watson passed away in her sleep Monday with her daughter, Barbara Jean, by her side. 

Watson was one of 11 families who desegregated six all-white schools in 1957 when she and her then 2-year-old daughter walked into Jones Elementary School in North Nashville. The Watsons were among the 11 of 126 eligible families that would integrate schools. 

She received numerous threats during this time – including threats that her daughter would be kidnapped and her home would be burned – but remained determined to give her daughter the best education possible. 

 “I wanted my children to have a good chance to succeed, the same as everybody else. Segregation never helped nobody. I hope what we did back then has made a little bit of a difference. I am glad I made the effort anyway. While we’ve come a long way since 1957, there is still a lot of work to do,” she told one reporter. 

A celebration of life service is scheduled for Thursday, December 20, at the 14th Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, her home church for 61 years. Family visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with services to follow.