Activists to Watch: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

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Rev. Dr. William Barber leads protestors into the North Carolina General Assembly to bear moral witness against policies passed by Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger and signed by Gov. Patrick McCrory. (Photo Credit: Phil Fonville)

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, catalyzed a new progressive movement through “Moral Monday” protests against the conservative takeover of state politics. The first protest, at the state Capitol building in Raleigh, in April attracted a modest crowd of supporters.

Seventeen people engaged in civil disobedience and were arrested. But the Moral Monday movement grew quickly, each week attracting larger and larger crowds — sometimes topping 10,000 protesters — and branching out to other cities and towns across North Carolina. Over an 18-week period, about 1,000 people were arrested, drawing attention to politicians who have slashed unemployment compensation for 170,000 people, increased taxes on the poor and middle class while cutting them for wealthy individuals and large corporations, turned down federal Medicaid funds for half a million residents, enacted harsh anti-abortion legislation, severely cut education funds and adopted the nation’s strictest voter suppression law.

Barber, 50, has served as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in Goldsboro since 1993. Elected head of the state’s NAACP in 2005, he led a voter registration effort that added more than 442,000 new voters to the rolls. As the public face of the Moral Monday movement, Barber, a brilliant orator, has ignited a broad coalition that will have a lasting impact.

“We have a new demographic emerging that is changing the South,” explains Barber, who received his bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina Central University, a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University and a doctorate from Drew University with a concentration in public policy and pastoral care. “The one thing they don’t want to see is us crossing over racial lines and class lines and gender lines and labor lines. When this coalition comes together, you’re going to see a New South.”

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