Barber steps down as president of NAACP, enters national fray

Goldsboro pastor to join in new Poor People's Campaign a half century after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the movement


RALEIGH — As his group of supporters sang out the traditional gospel song “Hold On Just A Little While Longer,” the Rev. William J. Barber II walked out of Davie Street Presbyterian Church on Monday and onto the national scene.

Barber — an omnipresent influence statewide in the progressive movement, from opposition to voter ID and House Bill 2 to support for a $15 minimum wage and Medicaid expansion — announced he would step down as president of the North Carolina NAACP to join a new Poor People’s Campaign nearly 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement of that name.

“This is not a commemoration,” Barber said of the new campaign. “We’re not doing this for one year to quit. But this is a launching.”

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Madeline Gray / North State Journal
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Madeline Gray / North State Journal

Barber said he wants to take the momentum from what he helped create in North Carolina and “shift our national moral narrative.”

Barber’s announcement came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear the case the N.C. NAACP brought against the state and then-Gov. Pat McCrory regarding a voter identification law. That left in place the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that sided with the NAACP and tossed out law, saying it targeted African-Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

“The Supreme Court has spoken and said we were right,” Barber said to applause.

It was one of many issues Barber tackled as the spokesperson for liberal causes in the state. But despite targeting conservative Republican initiatives almost exclusively, Barber — a registered Independent — said his movement had welcomes people of all political ideologies.

“This is not about left vs. right,” Barber said.

Still, at the press conference announcing Barber’s decision to step down from his state NAACP post — he will remain on the national NAACP board — several speakers took shots at the right.

Outgoing Democracy North Carolina executive director Bob Hall referred to the state’s Republicans as “jokers,” while Tim Tyson, a professor at Duke University who was arrested along with Barber during a protest of a Wake County Board of Education meeting in 2010, several times referred to political adversaries as “crackpots” during his speech Monday.

Despite accusations that his campaigns were divisive, Barber has preached an inclusivity during his 12-year tenure as head of the N.C. NAACP, expanding the organization’s reach to other races, religions, the LGBT community, teachers and even fast food workers.

Barber now looks to take the momentum across the country, targeting the District of Columbia and more than 20 states where he says lack of Medicaid expansion and a living wage, high poverty rates, voter suppression laws and high populations of Protestant evangelicals overlap and are the battleground areas for his new movement.

“If there are people cynical enough in the same states to hold people down, we ought to be courageous enough to come together and lift them up,” Barber said.

He said the new Poor People’s Campaign would do an audit of those states, led by Tyson and due in December, and being training people in preparation for 40 days of activism in 2018.

Barber said he will still be involved and also stay on as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro.

“I ask you to stay engaged in North Carolina,” Barber said. “This was never about one person.”

Barber had earned national recognition for the Moral Mondays movement, appearing on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” in 2014 and truly jumped into the national consciousness with his speech on the final day of the Democratic National Convention two years later.

In that speech, Barber called for people “to be the moral defribrillators of our time.” Much like Monday, Barber walked away from that speech to cheers, never looking back at the crowd cheering him on.

Instead of walking back to his efforts in North Carolina, this time he walks onto the national stage.

“The way to change the nation is to nationalize state movements,” he said.

With the new Poor People’s Campaign, that is his goal. He leaves the N.C. NAACP “in good hands,” he said.

“But I want to be clear: I’m not going anywhere.”


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