Rev. JoAnn Watson speaking into microphone
The Rev. JoAnn Watson attends a Feb. 24, 2023, press conference announcing Detroit’s new Reparations Task Force at West Side Unity Church. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

Funeral arrangements have been set for The Rev. JoAnn Watson, who died this week at the age of 72 after a lifetime of community advocacy and social justice work.

A service at Fellowship Chapel, 7707 W. Outer Dr., is scheduled for 11 a.m. on July 22 for Detroiters who wish to celebrate Watson’s life. Her family is inviting the public to offer support and pay respects at a visitation starting an hour earlier, according to Swanson’s Funeral Home. 

Related: JoAnn Watson, Detroit’s ‘Queen Mother’ and defining political leader, has died

Watson’s decades-long career in public service spanned from Detroit City Council to the United Nations. She was the first woman director of the Detroit NAACP, a pastor at West Side Community Church and a leader of Detroit’s reparations movement who served on the city’s first Reparations Task Force before her death on Monday. 

Watson served on Detroit’s City Council for a decade from 2003 to 2013 and was a fierce water and human rights advocate. She served as a public liaison for the late Congressman John Conyers, Jr. and developed strong community ties as host of the “Wake Up Detroit!” radio and television program. 

She was also a strong voice during Detroit’s bankruptcy case, testifying about water shutoffs and affordability. Watson held positions on a variety of boards and community groups, including the Black Legacy Coalition, Detroit Council of Elders and Unity Urban Ministerial School.

An outpouring of love and respect for Watson’s accomplishments came from dozens of prominent Detroit community leaders after her death was announced Monday.  

“JoAnn was always for many of us, kind of bigger than life,” The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP’s Detroit Branch, told BridgeDetroit this week. “She’s gone physically but she will always be among us spiritually. She was an uncompromising, relentless fighter for freedom, justice and equity. She spoke the unrivaled truth to power – didn’t matter who it was, where it was or when it was.” 

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  1. Mama JoAnn was not only a leading voice for justice in Detroit but around the world. I worked with her for many years on the struggle for reparations, and she always kept *justice* as the goal for all her work. May the Ancestors welcome her with open arms and smiles as she enters Their realm…

  2. Mrs. Rev. JoAnn Watson was and is as lovely as a Rose flower. I will never forget her. She was my shoe buddy we met in Crowley’s shoe department. I was so excited to meet her and we talked a very long time. I would listen to her on the radio and finally I got to know her. From there on whenever we talk it was good educational conversation and knowledge was poured into me about life and how to handle situations that has inspired me to this day. Thank you Mrs. Rev Watson for all you have done for our community. God bless her and her family in Jesus Christ name Amen.

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