Community leader Rev. Watson Haynes II dies

Civil rights leader Rev. Watson Haynes II passed away on Aug. 20 after battling cancer. He was 69.

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rev. Watson Haynes II was a leader. In faith, he helped lead New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church as an ordained minister. In politics, he helped shape generations of political leaders. In service to his community, he worked tirelessly to address issues in education, generational poverty, affordable housing, adult education, health and so much more.

He transitioned peacefully on Aug. 20 after a valiant fight against cancer.

“With the death of Rev. Watson Haynes, I have personally lost a dear friend and a comrade that I will miss sorely,” said longtime friend Gwendolyn Reese.

Watson and Reese fought on the frontlines together for many causes that span decades, both dedicated to the Black community.

“Our community has lost a person who has been committed — for all of his life, from his youth to the day that he transitioned — to this community, to us as African Americans striving for justice, striving for equality, always with the good of all in mind. I knew him not as a selfish person. I knew him not as an egotistical person. I knew him as a gentle spirit with a big heart and an immeasurable love for this community,” Reese said.

L, R – Rev. Watson Haynes, president & CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, Congressman Charlie Crist, and the late Congressman John Lewis

A St. Pete native, Haynes grew up in the Gas Plant area where his childhood home stood right where the current third base sits in Tropicana Field. He graduated from St. Petersburg High School, where he met and became fast friends with Charlie Crist. The two were inseparable.

“Today, we mourn the loss of Rev. Watson Haynes — a humble public servant, who fought every day for justice and equality in Pinellas County,” U.S. Rep. Crist wrote in a statement.

“He was a brother to me and will forever be remembered and missed.”

When superstar Angela Bassett comes to town, she would stop by to see her mentors – the late Rev. Watson Haynes and the late Rev. Alvin Miller. Seen here in 2016.

Throughout the years, Haynes worked with both Democrats and Republicans to advance his beloved city. Former Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Haynes to the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, former Gov. Christ appointed him to the Florida Commission on Human Rights, and former Gov. Rick Scott reappointed him in 2011.

In 2012, he took over the reins at the Pinellas County Urban League, where he served as the president and CEO until his death. Under his leadership, the organization grew by leaps and bounds.

“The Urban League has significantly benefited from Rev. Haynes’ leadership and vision,” wrote Pinellas County Urban League Board Chair Rodney Wilson. “His passing has left a tremendous void that will be difficult to fill. As you all know, he was a truly spiritual man and an inspiration to his family, community, and the Urban League movement.”

Eta Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity brother and St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said the city has lost a giant with his passing.

Fraternity brothers Mayor Ken Welch and Rev. Watson Haynes

“Watson was a counselor, advisor, peacemaker, and bridge-builder,” Welch wrote in a statement. From his roots as a child of the Historic Gas Plant district to his current role as CEO of the Pinellas Urban League, he has always worked to build understanding and progress, and his voice was universally respected.”

Former Mayor Rick Kriseman gave Watson Haynes the last key to the city under his tenure on Dec. 2, 2021.

Last year, former Mayor Rick Kriseman gave Haynes the last key to the city under his tenure. At the Dec. 2 presentation, he said he was “hard-pressed to think of an area of our city where the voice and the work of Watson Haynes has not been heard and felt.”

In a statement today, Kriseman said: “The beloved Rev. Watson L. Haynes II has now completed his work here on Earth. He meant so much to so many — and never stopped making our community better.”

Councilwoman Deborah Figgs-Sanders expressed how she cherishes and respects Haynes and appreciated his support throughout her lifetime.

Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Watson Haynes

“Watson was someone who you wanted on your team. He was a pillar of our community, and his absence will test the fortitude of the African American commitment to growing together toward a stronger economic foundation,” she stated.

Figgs-Sanders, who was the former executive director of the Childs Park YMCA, said Haynes introduced her to social services and began her journey in public service.

“I will truly miss my ‘Rev. Uncle,’ as I respectfully called him,” she said. “He supported me in all things, and to him, I will forever be grateful.

Former St. Petersburg Police Chief and Deputy Mayor Dr. Goliath Davis, III, said he’s known Haynes for more than 50 years, and “his life has always been one of activism and community service.”

Haynes leaves an indelible mark in a host of areas, including the organization COQEB (Concerned Organizations for the Quality Education of Black Students), drug treatment, education, religion, the NAACP, the Urban League, politics, the Pinellas Opportunity Council and many others, Davis said.

“He worked with and was mentored by noted giants such as Attorney Morris Milton, Vyrle Davis, Adelle Vaughn Jemison, Pastor Bragg L. Turner, and John Hopkins. He will be missed, but his contributions will endure,” said Davis.

Rev. Watson Haynes (middle) showed off his official ordination papers after becoming a reverend on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Seen here with Rev. Michael Butler on the left and Rev. Anthony King on the right.

Haynes mentioned each of those leaders when he accepted the key to the city last year.

“Each and every one of these individuals lived a life of service to this community, and their examples were thoroughly ingrained in my desire to follow suit,” said Haynes, who passed away at the age of 69.

Our heartfelt condolences to Valerie Haynes, his wife, and the entire family.

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