When the words “black liberation theology” are spoken, several names immediately come to mind: the Rev. James Cone, who coined the term; the Rev. Sojourner Truth; the Rev. Nat Turner; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; Dr. Cornel West; the Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon; and the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.
Now, after years of service, Barber, best known for his fiery sermons, tireless advocacy for the most marginalized and oppressed people in our society, and the creation of Moral Mondays, a movement protesting white supremacist actions pushed by the North Carolina state Legislature, is stepping down from his role as president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, a position he has held since 2006.
According to a statement published Thursday at the state chapter’s website, Barber will join the leadership of the Poor People’s Campaign Call for a National Moral Revival.
The New Poor People’s Campaign will mark the 50th anniversary of King’s 1967-68 Poor People’s Campaign and will focus on 25 states and Washington, D.C.
Per the press release:
In 2016, Rev. Dr. Barber co-led “The Revival: Time for a Revolution of Moral Values” with Repairers of the Breach, a national organization that trains faith and moral leaders in moral activism, theology, and public policy. His decision responds to a call by moral leaders, activists, and people across the country battered by immoral public policies to help build this movement with the lessons learned from the work in North Carolina. The state’s Forward Together Moral Movement, better known as “Moral Monday,” has become a large, diverse and vibrant “fusion movement” grounded in an ecumenical moral critique of both racism and poverty and founded upon our most deeply held constitutional and moral values.
“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,” said Rev. Dr. Barber. “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,” he said.
Rev. Dr. Barber will remain on the national board of directors of the NAACP and continue on as a member of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference. Leon Russell, NAACP Board of Directors Chair, and Derrick Johnson, NAACP Board of Directors Vice Chair and president of the Mississippi NAACP State Conference spoke about the transition.
“Rev. Dr. Barber will continue to be a strong voice on the national board and his influence and voice will be felt in our meetings,” said Russell. “What we will miss is his leadership at the state conference level. However, he’s put together a brilliant team that will continue the work that still needs to be done. We understand and believe in his work and calling to the moral movement and to work for poor people. This is a call he must answer. He can provide leadership in this and other areas where consciousness needs to be raised. I’m very supportive of his response to this calling and look forward to continuing our work together at the NAACP,” he said.
Barber has been a prophetic voice in perilous times, his booming voice ringing with clarity in his opposition of the Trump regime.
In a February op-ed published on the NBC News website after the National Prayer Breakfast, he wrote:
A century and a half ago, as he led the faith-rooted struggle against slavery in America, Frederick Douglass wrote, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked.”
This essential distinction was not reconciled following America’s Civil War. In some ways it became more rigidly defined, as the Ku Klux Klan adopted a fiery cross as the symbol of its hatred and white Southerners determined to erase the work of Reconstruction called their crusade the Redemption movement.
In response to such hypocritical religious extremism, the Social Gospel movement emerged in America to challenge corporate greed and, in some instances, systemic racism. Long before “What Would Jesus Do?” was a wrist bracelet, it was an evangelical challenge to child poverty, labor exploitation, and homelessness in early 20th century America.
When protests erupted in Charlotte, N.C., after the extrajudicial slaying of Keith Scott, and condescending and ignorant observers decried the “violence” of those seeking justice, Barber made it plain:
That systemic violence, which rarely makes headlines, creates the daily traumatic stress that puts our communities on edge, affecting both those of us who live there and outside observers who often denounce ‘black-on-black’ crime. We cannot have a grown-up conversation about race in America until we acknowledge the violent conditions engendered by government policy and police practice.
Barber has also been clear that “protests are a cry from America’s moral center”; that with the installment of the Trump regime, “we are witnessing the birth pang of a third Reconstruction”; and that the United States of America is in need of moral witnesses and freedom fighters to be the “moral defibrillator” that resuscitates the heart of this nation’s democracy.
“I know it may sound strange, but I’m a conservative,” Barber said in a commanding address at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “Because I work to conserve a divine tradition that teaches us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
“As we travel the country and see some things,” Barber continued, “I’m so concerned by those who say so much about what God said so little, while saying so little about what God said so much … I’m worried about the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed.”
Barber is a staunch advocate for universal health care, public education and LGBTQ, immigrant and labor rights, as well as liberation for Palestine. He has also not shied away from speaking on the “legitimate discontent” that, in part, fuels the Movement for Black Lives.
Though he is stepping down from his role as president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Barber remains on the organization’s national board of directors, where, in 2011, he was appointed chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee.
The Root reached out to the North Carolina NAACP for comment, and we were informed that Barber will hold a press conference Monday at 10 a.m. at the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C., to address his transition in leadership.