More than a hundred people converged on the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh Monday morning to pay their respects to the Reverend William J. Barber II, the local civil rights icon and progenitor of the Moral Mondays movement who announced late last week that he would be stepping down as the leader of the North Carolina NAACP after twelve years.
It was a big crowd for a press conference, and it quickly took on a celebratory mood. Moments before the event began, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it had declined to hear a challenge to a federal appeals ruling last year that struck down numerous provisions of the North Carolina voting law enacted by the Republican legislature in 2013. The appeals court ruled that the law—which included voter ID requirements, shortened early voting periods, and eliminated same-day registration—had been passed with "discriminatory intent" and "targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision."
Barber and the NAACP had been on the front lines pushing back. And the reverend, who despite his larger-than-life persona is known for deflecting adoration, seized the moment. This victory, he told those assembled, was worth savoring.
As the news was delivered, he rose to his feet, lifting his arms and calling for those who turned out to honor him to honor one another for standing up to the lawmakers who attempted to limit their rights. Nearly an hour later, when he addressed those in attendance—after more than a dozen friends, colleagues, and faith leaders praised him—he told them that his new path wasn't about William Barber but rather picking up where those whose "shoulders we stand on" left off.
Barber's decision to step down from the NAACP post was, he said, his answer to a call from God to organize a revived "Poor People's Campaign"—echoing Martin Luther King Jr.'s movement of 1968—and "breathe new fire and energy into the torch of justice" lit a half-century ago.
"This is not a commemoration," he said. "We're not doing this for one year and quit. This is a launching. This is the beginning of a movement to shift the national moral narrative. This is bigger than Donald Trump, because he and his election ... are a symptom of a larger moral deficit."
But Barber, who made a thunderous speech at last year's Democratic National Convention, warned the crowd to remain vigilant in his absence, reminding them that while his future is in Washington and across the country, the rights of North Carolinians are still under attack. For that reason, he said, he would stay active in the state NAACP and in his Goldsboro church.
"If there's a need to march and move in North Carolina, I'm a homeboy," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. My roots run deep in North Carolina."
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Next Mission."