2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award
REV. DR. WILLIAM J. BARBER, II
What ever happened to the civil rights movement? We hear that question upon occasion. In fact, the civil rights movement is alive and well. There are committed and courageous men and women across America who have taken up the torch passed to us by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of those torch bearers is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II of Goldsboro, NC. Rev. Dr. Barber combines powerful advocacy with purposeful action.
As pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church DOC, he is chairperson of Rebuilding Broken Places Community Development Corporation, a non-profit community development initiative dedicated to job training, affordable child care, afterschool tutoring, and affordable housing for low-income people. To date, this initiative has invested more than $12 million in the Goldsboro community.
As President of the North Carolina NAACP Conference of Branches, Rev. Dr. Barber has built a coalition of some 140 partnering organizations called HKonJ (Historical Thousands on Jones Street). HKonJ works 365 days a year to advance social justice causes in North Carolina, and each year, on the 2nd Saturday in February, it convenes the HKonJ People's Assembly in Raleigh, NC. The Assembly culminates in a march to the North Carolina General Assembly on Jones Street. This mobilization has grown from 3,500 in 2007 to more than 15,000 in 2012. The HKonJ's 14-Point People’s Agenda includes a call for high quality, well-funded, Constitutional, diverse schools for all children, livable wages and support for low-income people, and collective bargaining for public employees.
When the Wake County school board, supported by the Tea Party and national right-wing financial donors, moved to turn back the clock and re-segregate the schools of Wake County, Rev. Dr. Barber took a stand. Too many people had fought for too long to let this pass. The struggle to integrate the Wake County schools had been painfully slow. But 20 years after Brown v Board of Education, change did come. The merger of the Raleigh city and Wake County schools, created a diverse schools system celebrated as a national model. As board pressed ahead with its plan, Rev. Dr. Barber organized a nonviolent protest at a board meeting and was arrested. The protest went national and Rev. Dr. Barber went head-to-head with school board member John Tedesco on CNN.
There are few people in our country more eloquent on the issue of voting than Rev. Dr. Barber. He has denounced the efforts of right-wing Republicans to make it more difficult for minorities to vote, calling it what it was—blatant racism. He helped win Same Day Registration and Early Voting in North Carolina; he helped lead a voter registration effort that resulted in 442,000 new voters; and his get-out-the-vote messages last year went viral on YouTube. "I don't know if Democrats or Republicans are going to vote on Election Day, but the sons and daughters of slaves sure as hell better vote."