Photo by Ben McKeown
The Reverend William Barber
More than a hundred people converged on the Davie Street Presbyterian Church Monday morning to pay their respects to the Reverend William Barber, a local civil rights icon who announced late last week that he would be stepping down as the leader of the North Carolina NAACP. But after more than a dozen friends, colleagues, and faith leaders offered praise to the man who has led them for more than a decade—Barber was elected president of the organization in 2005—Barber sought to shift the focus off of himself.
Indeed, what transpired this morning couldn’t have been scripted any better for those activists on hand. Moments before the press conference began, the Supreme Court announced that it had declined to hear a challenge to a ruling last year that struck down numerous components of the North Carolina voting law enacted by the Republican legislature in 2013
. Barber, who despite his larger-than-life persona is known for deflecting praise, seized the moment. This victory, he told them, was worth savoring.
So 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 rights he characterized as God-given. Nearly an hour later, when he addressed those in attendance, he told them that his new path wasn’t about William Barber, but rather picking up where those who “shoulders we stand on” left off.
Barber’s decision to step down was, he said, his answer to a call from God to organize a revived “Poor People’s Campaign”—the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 was a creation of Martin Luther King Jr.
—and “breathe new fire and energy into the torch of justice” lit nearly fifty years ago.
“This is not a commemoration. 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,” Barber said, adding that he would spend much of his time on “on the road,” fighting alongside those living in poverty across the nation. “This is bigger than Donald Trump because he and his election … are a symptom of a larger moral deficit. … This call is not some ego trip. This is about hearing the voices of so many.”
But Barber 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 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.”