Rev. William J. Barber II will step down as head of the state chapter of the NAACP in June, after more than a decade of leadership of the civil rights organization, to help organize a new Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D. C., and 25 states.
The Rev. William J. Barber II will step down as head of the state chapter of the NAACP in June, after more than a decade of leadership that has raised the profile of the civil rights organization and made it a prominent voice in state politics.
Barber will help organize a new Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D. C., and 25 states even as he continues to serve as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro. He will also remain on the national board of the NAACP.
In a phone interview Thursday, Barber, 53, stressed that he still will be based in North Carolina and paying attention to what happens in his home state. But he said he’ ll be turning his attention to a national effort that will focus on many of the same issues he has been highlighting here for much of the past decade.
“I’ m not leaving the state, ” Barber said. “I’ m accepting a call, a very spiritual call.”
Barber’s legacy includes the Moral Monday movement, a series of protests at the General Assembly and elsewhere on behalf of the poor and the disenfranchised. He says those experiences will help him as he continues to work with other states, including Tennessee and Georgia, which already have created similar models.
When Barber rose to leadership in the state NAACP almost 12 years ago, his goal was to give new energy and a new battle cry to an organization that he worried had been become too lethargic.
“We have to move from banquet to battle, ” Barber said in 2006 during an interview at his Goldsboro church. “We have to broaden the membership.”
Since then, Barber, a preacher with a booming voice, has been a presence in many of North Carolina’s high-profile moments. He urged people to be patient as questions swirled around the Duke lacrosse case to let the wheels of justice turn toward the truth. But he did not back down from an opportunity to highlight issues of racism, classism and sexual violence threaded through the narrative of the case.
In Wake County, he led opposition to an attempt by the school board in 2010 to dismantle the diversity policy for the state’s largest school system.
In 2013, the first year Republicans held control of both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly and the governor’s office, Barber organized regular protests in Raleigh that led to more than a thousand arrests.
Though his leadership on such efforts had led to many followers and supporters, Barber also has critics. Some say he works more to divide people than unite divergent voices with a common goal. They say he acts too much like a politician and too little like a preacher.
Barber said he has no interest in being a politician.
“I’ m a pastor at heart, ” Barber said Thursday. “But I believe we need to have pastors in the public square.”
Barber cites the Bible and issues about helping the poor as one of the driving forces behind his work and his next steps.
“This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic poverty and racism, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable, ” Barber said in a statement released Thursday morning. “While I am stepping down as president, I will continue working to advance the moral movement here at home as well as support the leadership in our conference to move North Carolina forward together.”
Barber said he will speak more about the Poor People’s Campaign at a press conference on Monday.
“I’ ve been in deep conversations of prayer with other leaders around the country, ” Barber said. “We look at the national narrative we have when we go through these national elections – and we’ re not talking about just one election or one party – but there have been no real discussions about the poor.”
Those conversations, Barber said, should include voting rights, health care proposals, systemic racism and more.
“We have a moral defect when we talk about spending more money on a bloated military than we do on public education, ” Barber said.