Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II was born in Indianapolis in 1963, two days after the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. His parents, Eleanor Barber and William J. Barber, Sr were young but seasoned activists, made a conscious decision to relocate to Eastern North Carolina Washington County having been had been recruited to help integrate the state’s public schools. Dr. Barber transitioned from a northern city to a segregated kindergarten in the rural South, his father served as the first African American in the department of general science and physics at Washington County’s white high school, while his mother became its first black security office manager.
Barber was elected president of the local NAACP youth council in 1978, at the age of 15. At 17, he became student body president of his high school, the first president to serve the integrated school for an entire year, breaking the previous tradition of alternating a black president & white president for each semester. He then enrolled at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and became student government president at age 19.
He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from NCCU, cum laude in 1985; a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University in 1989; and a doctorate from Drew University with a concentration in public policy and pastoral care in 2003.
In 1984, he met a first-year NCCU student, Rebecca McLean, at a march in support of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign; they married three years later.
In his early 20s, Barber was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which has affected his spine ever since.
President of the North Carolina NAACP and convener of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Peoples Assembly Coalition, a broad alliance of more than 140 progressive organizations with over 2 million memberships to champion a 14-point anti-racism, anti-poverty, anti-war agenda, Dr. Barber is very much in the national spotlight. Dr. Barber and this coalition has aided in the passage of the Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allowed death row inmates to appeal their sentences on the grounds of racial bias in the court system; and successfully advocated for voting reforms such as same-day registration and early voting and has re-framed marriage equality as a civil rights issue and helped mobilized black churches to support a ballot initiative in 2012.
In opposition to regressive policies pushed by the governor and state legislature including draconian cuts to Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and public education funding, Dr. Barber has mobilized the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, a multi-racial, multi-generational movement of thousands for protests at the NC General Assembly the people’s house, and around the state. Hundreds, including Dr. Barber himself, have also engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to expose what the politicians in North Carolina are trying to do in the dark.
Rev. Dr. Barber graduated Cum Laude from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, N.C., receiving a B.A. in Political Science. He received a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University, was a Benjamin Mays Fellow and a Dean scholar. Dr. Barber has a Doctoral degree from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, with a concentration in Public Policy and Pastoral Care and he has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from N.C.C.U. The Honorable Governor Beverly Purdue presented Dr. Barber with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine; North Carolina’s highest citizenship award presented to outstanding North Carolinians who have a proven record of service to the state.
Dr. Barber has served as the Executive Director of N.C. Human Relations Commission, State of North Carolina, an adjunct instructor at N.C. Wesleyan, North Carolina Central University and Duke Divinity School, has served on the trustee boards of two colleges and is an MIT Mel King Community Fellow for Community and Economic CoLab.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, II was re-elected to the NAACP National Board in 2011 and appointed as the National NAACP Chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee. Under his leadership, the NAACP developed a new 21st Century voter registration/voter participation system. In NC this system registered more than 442,000 new voters and provided access to 1.5 million voters.
Since Dr. Barber became President, he has led fundraising efforts for the NC NAACP raising more than $2 million of new money and has increased NC NAACP staff from one to seven persons. Dr. Barber led the North Carolina NAACP State Conference to national recognition when he accepted the Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Esq. Award for legal activism, the highest award in the NAACP for Legal Redress for Advocacy. In addition, the NC NAACP became the recipient of the Thalheimer Award for most programmatic NAACP State Conference and in 2010 Rev. Dr. Barber won the National NAACP Kelly Alexander Award.
Dr. Barber has written one book entitled, “Preaching Through Unexpected Pain”, and several articles and is currently working on his second book. He has been featured on Wall Street, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Crisis Magazine, and has spoken, preached and lectured around the country.
Dr. Barber’s membership affiliations have included Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and Prince Hall Mason, 33°.Scotish Rite, and Shriners. He has received many awards for his work fighting for justice, social change, and for speaking truth to power. By the grace of God, Rev. Dr. Barber, along with local, state, and national NAACP leaders, has helped to lead the fight for voter rights, just redistricting, health care reform, labor and worker rights, protection of immigration rights, and reparation for women survivors of Eugenics, release of the Wilmington Ten and educational equality. Rev. Dr. Barber has been arrested three times for civil disobedience as he stood for educational, economic and equal justice. Dr. Barber was selected as one of theGrio’s 100 in the class of 2013,
Some of Rev. Dr. William Barber’s other accolades and accomplishments are: The NC NAACP is the largest state conference in the south – second largest in nation; Dr. Barber stood with Georgia’s NAACP State President to secure the release of Mr. John McNeil, a man, husband and father who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentence to life in prison; Dr. Barber has help lead the North Carolina NAACP in filing Title VI filing against the Wayne and Wake County School Broads in the fight against re-segregation and inequality; Dr. Barber fought and helped to secure over millions of new dollars for low wealth and disadvantaged students.
Barber lives in Goldsboro, where for 20 years he has pastored at Greenleaf Christian Church. In 1995, Greenleaf’s moderate-sized congregation conducted a social demographic analysis of the two-mile circle surrounding the church where they found high levels of poverty and under-employment.
The congregation invested $1.5 million into community development, purchasing the surrounding land and leveraging resources back into the community which resulted in more than 60 homes for low to moderate income families, a 41-unit senior citizens’ home, and a 90-student pre-school academy. They’ve also built a community center that houses an academic afterschool program, a computer lab for both youth and adult training, and an HIV/AIDs information and testing center. Dr. Barber has led in the efforts along with other clergy and community leaders in The Stop the Funeral Initiative and the Drug Dealer/Gang Member Redemption Conference focused on reducing drug and gang violence in Wayne County. As a result of Rev. Dr. Barber’s lead on this initiative, RBPCDC is embarking on a new effort, the 2nd Chance Education and Job Training program aimed at providing education and job training for formerly incarcerated individuals and others with significant barriers to employment.
Beginning in April 2013, Barber led regular “Moral Mondays” civil-rights protests in North Carolina’s state capital, Raleigh. The Wall Street Journal credited Barber’s NAACP chapter with forming a coalition in 2007 named Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly, composed of 93 North Carolina advocacy groups. “With this changing demographic, we had to operate in coalition”, Barber was quoted as saying. Historian and professor Timothy Tyson named Barber, “the most important progressive political leader in this state in generations”, saying that he “built a statewide interracial fusion political coalition that has not been seriously attempted since 1900”. An article in the Michigan State Law Review, “Confronting Race: How a Confluence of Social Movements Convinced North Carolina to Go where the McCleskey Court Wouldn’t” credits him with bringing together a statewide political coalition. He “has become as well-known [in North Carolina] as [Governor] Pat McCrory and Republican leaders of the House and Senate”, according to a 2013 Huffington Post profile of him. He traveled with NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous to meet with Georgia prison officials.
In 2014, he founded Repairers of the Breach, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization “formed to educate and train religious and other leaders of faith who will pursue policies and organizational strategies for the good of the whole and to educate the public about connections between shared religious faith”.
In 2016, he delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention; the address was described as rousing and was well received.
On May 30, 2017, Barber was arrested after refusing to leave the North Carolina State Legislative Building during a protest over health care legislation. The following month, a state magistrate banned Barber and the other protesters from entering the Legislative Building. Barber and his lawyers contend that the ban is unconstitutional, because the state constitution guarantees citizens the right to assemble to communicate with their legislators.
In May 2017, Barber announced he would step down from the state NAACP presidency to lead “a new ‘Poor People’s Campaign‘”, named Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival in honour of the original 1968 campaign founded by Martin Luther King Jr..
- Preaching Through Unexpected Pain(self-published)
- Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation(Chalice Press, 2014, ISBN 0827244940).
- The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement(Beacon Press, 2016, ISBN 0807083607)
- Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing(Beacon Press, 2018, ISBN 9780807025604)
- We Are Called To Be A Movement(Workman Publishing Co., Inc., 2020)