The upcoming NC NAACP 74th Annual Convention in Raleigh Oct. 5-7, will be the last for Dr. William J. Barber, II as the civil rights organization’s president.
“Anytime you have given a life’s commitment to something, your emotions are mixed,” he admitted during a phone interview recently. “ I started out as the President of the Youth Branch of the Washington County NAACP when I was a high school student.”
A lot has happened [since then], and I think about those moments,” Barber said, reflecting. “I never dreamed that I would have the opportunity, as an adult, to serve this particular State Conference that has had such a storied history and such an important role in the cause of civil rights.”
For 12 controversial, yet dynamic and productive, years in terms of social change in the State, Dr. Barber, who is also Pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, has led what once was considered, by some, a group that meandered after the 1985 death of legendary leader, State President (and later National Board Chairman) Kelly Alexander, Sr., of Charlotte.
“It had become a dormant and ineffective organization which had the label of being the defender of civil and constitutional rights in North Carolina for African-Americans but had lost its will and ability to fight the critical battles which needed to be fought,” says Attorney Irving Joyner, Chair of the NCNAACP Legal Redress Committee.
But when The Reverend “Billie” Barber, as some once knew him, took over as president in 2005, he brought with him a no nonsense brand of leadership, challenging the political and social power structure statewide to heed the cries of the disenfranchised for justice and equality.
Barber ultimately created, and then led, a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition of social activists from every corner of the State, building the largest State NAACP conference in the South, making him a force with whom to be seriously reckoned by every political leader in North Carolina.
And he also challenged the NCNAACP membership to be more accountable to the needs of the respective communities they serve and not be afraid to speak truth to power by filling the streets, churches and local government meetings with a defiant energy that ultimately became a powerful and potent political force with which to be reckoned by both Democrats and Republicans.
“He was fearless because he had faith, and because he had faith, he was able to energize a mass movement that was dedicated to challenging the powerful and ruthless political leadership in North Carolina,” Joyner, also a professor at NCCU School of Law in Durham adds.
With an impressive history behind him of Historic Thousands on Jones Street marches and rallies; Forward Together/Moral Monday Movement demonstrations; Wake School Board protests (where he was handcuffed by police and jailed for disrupting proceedings); several Million Voters March registration campaigns; lobbying for One Stop/Early Voting ( which ultimately helped Barack Obama win North Carolina and the White House in 2008); the Truth and Hope statewide poverty tour; countless sermons and speeches (including at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia); numerous court victories against the Republican-led NC General Assembly to defeat voter suppression laws and schemes; and so many other accomplishments, in an exclusive interview with the Black Press. Dr. Barber now looks back with great pride, and a little regret in some cases, at a social justice record that many say has propelled him firmly to the national, and even international, stage as he prepares to fully join the national Poor People’s Campaign.
But Barber’s legacy is both sustaining and daunting, especially for the two hopefuls vying to be elected to succeed him next week.
“Bishop Barber is a teacher,” The Reverend Dr. Portia Rochelle, President of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP Branch, says “He is one that has a vision, makes sure that you understand that vision, makes sure that you understand that vision and your place, your role and your value in making the vision come forth. So I believe that whoever succeeds …follows that role model, will do great.”
The Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, NCNAACP Third Vice President, and Senior Pastor, St. Phillips AME Zion Church in Greensboro, who also seeks Dr. Barber’s seat, concurs.
“I’ve seen a great deal of merit in the work of Dr. William J. Barber, II,” The Reverend. Spearman says, “ and want to see this movement continue [as] over the course of the 12 years that he [has] served in leadership.”
For his part, Dr. Barber, 54, born two days after the historic 1963 March on Washington in Indianapolis, Ind., says leading the fight just to “hold on” to the many civil rights gains his parents and many others before him fought to make has “been very sobering.”
“It’s been challenging, extraordinarily humbling. It’s been rewarding to work with the people in the State Conference, and I can’t say that I won’t miss serving. I love serving. I’ve learned serving, and my greatest prayer [for] the State Conference is that, if I’ve done anything that has been beneficial to this State’s moving forward and helped to bring people together, those things that were done well will be continued.”