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Rev. Melvin Watson, trained civil rights leaders; at 98

ATLANTA -- The Rev. Melvin H. Watson, who helped train Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, has died. He was 98.

Rev. Watson, who lived in Atlanta, died Monday following surgery at Crawford Long Hospital, said Walter Earl Fluker of Atlanta, executive director of the Leadership Center at Morehouse College and Rev. Watson's son-in-law.

Rev. Watson exerted a quiet influence for more than half a century as senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Atlanta and as a religion professor at Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Religion, and the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Many of his students became civil rights leaders.

``He was one of the great teachers of his generation, and his teaching skills and mentoring capacity were as comprehensive outside the classroom as in the classroom," said the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. of Cleveland, who studied with Rev. Watson.

King turned to Rev. Watson for advice when he was studying at Boston University and serving as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., Fluker said.

In a series of letters, Rev. Watson critiqued King's views of socialism and philosophy, and recommended books to read, Fluker said.

``In one letter, King is bragging about his new programs at Dexter, and Watson writes back -- I paraphrase -- `the abundance of activity is a smoke screen for effective ministry.' He counseled King to slow down and take care of his people," Fluker said.

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