Watson, Thomas (1898-1985)

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Watson, Thomas (1898-1985)

Thomas Watson, a pioneer spiritual church leader and medium, was raised in New Orleans and attended Xavier University, a school founded to serve the African American community, and Texas Christian University. He became a schoolteacher after graduation. He was in New Orleans at the time Leafy Anderson brought the spiritual movement to the city. He joined Anderson's Eternal Life Christian Spiritual Association and emerged as a leader. He left the association in 1929, two years after Anderson's death, and founded an independent congregation, St. Joseph Helping Hand Church in Algiers, a New Orleans suburb.

Over the next five years similar congregations were founded and affiliated with Watson's work. These were formally organized into the St. Joseph Helping Hand Missionary Association in 1934. Following Anderson's emphasis, the new association retained a strong attachment to traditional Christian affirmations, unlike other Spiritual churches, which had discarded most Christian distinctions. The next year the association reorganized into the Divine Spiritual Churches of the Southwest. This church adopted a strong hierarchial structure and named Watson as its senior bishop. Bessie S. Johnson was named as his junior bishop. During the late 1930s Watson reconsidered his opinions on women ministers, and in 1940 he demoted Smith to Reverend Mother Superior, a non-ministerial position common in many black churches. The change led to a schism, and those members who supported the women pastors and mediums left.

In 1942 Watson led his church into a merger with the Metropolitan Spiritual Churches of Christ to form the United Spiritual Churches of Christ. Shortly after the merger, the leader of the Metropolitan Spiritual Churches of Christ, William Taylor, died, and Watson was named his successor. However, he immediately ran into conflict with Clarence Cobbs, a prominent medium from Chicago. The conflict led to a schism in 1945. Watson departed with his following and organized the United Metropolitan Spiritual Churches of Christ. He led the churches until his death on November 12, 1985, when he was succeeded by his son, Bishop Aubrey Watson.


Jacobs, Claude F., and Andrew J. Kaslow. The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African American Religion. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

Murphy, Larry G., J. Gordon Melton, and Gary L. Ward. Encyclopedia of African American Religions. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.

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Thomas Watson

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