William Barber II

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William Barber
William Joseph Barber II

(1963-08-30) August 30, 1963 (age 59)
EducationNorth Carolina Central University (BA)
Duke University (MDiv)
Drew University (DMin)

William J. Barber II[1] (born August 30, 1963) is an American Protestant minister, social activist, professor in the Practice of Public Theology and Public Policy and founding director of the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy at Yale Divinity School.[2] He is the president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival. He also serves as a member of the national board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and is the chair of its legislative political action committee. From 2006 to 2017, Barber served as president of the NAACP's North Carolina state chapter, the largest in the Southern United States and the second-largest in the United States.[3] He pastored Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, North Carolina from 1993 to 2023.[2]

Education and family[edit]

Barber was born in Indianapolis to Eleanor Barber and William J. Barber, Sr,[4] who then moved their young family to Washington County, North Carolina to participate in the desegregation of the public school system there: his mother as a secretary/office manager, his father as a physics teacher, and young Barber as a kindergarten student.[5]

Barber was elected president of the local NAACP youth council in 1978, at the age of 15.[6] 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.[5] 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.[1][7]

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.[6]

In his early 20s, Barber was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which has affected his spine ever since.[8]


Beginning in April 2013, Barber led regular "Moral Mondays" civil-rights protests in North Carolina's state capital, Raleigh.[8] 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.[9] 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".[10] An article in the Michigan State Law Review,[11] "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.[12] He traveled with NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous to meet with Georgia prison officials.[13]

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".[14]

In 2016, he delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention; the address was described as rousing and was well received.[15][16][17]

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.[18]

In May 2017, Barber announced he would step down from the state NAACP presidency to lead "a new 'Poor People's Campaign'",[19] 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.

In July 2021, Barber called for a "season of nonviolent direct action" to bring attention to threats to democracy in the U.S.. He was arrested alongside hundreds of others in Washington, D.C. on August 2nd in a peaceful protest for voting rights and higher wages.[20]


Barber meeting with Senator Kamala Harris in 2018

Barber was awarded the 2006 Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Esq. Award for legal activism, the highest award in the NAACP for legal redress for advocacy, he was the 2008 recipient of the Thalheimer Award for most programmatic NAACP State Conference, and in 2010 he won the National NAACP Kelly M. Alexander Humanitarian Award.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue awarded him the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2009—a North Carolina citizenship award presented to outstanding North Carolinians who have a proven record of service to the state.

In 2017, Barber was awarded an honorary doctorate from Drew University, his alma mater, and also delivered the university's sesquicentennial address at commencement exercises. Barber was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Occidental College preceding his speech (which was also livestreamed) to students, alumni, and community members in Thorne Hall.

In 2018, Barber was named a MacArthur Fellow (popularly known as the "Genius Grant") for "building broad-based fusion coalitions as part of a moral movement to confront racial and economic inequality".[21]


  • Preaching Through Unexpected Pain (self-published)
  • Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation (Chalice Press, 2014, ISBN 0827244940).[22]
  • The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement (Beacon Press, 2016, ISBN 0807083607)[23]
  • Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing (Beacon Press, 2018, ISBN 9780807025604)[24]
  • We Are Called To Be A Movement (Workman Publishing Co., Inc., 2020), ISBN 978-1-5235-1124-2


  1. ^ a b "188th Commencement 2020". Wesleyan University. Retrieved January 1, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "William Barber launches new center at Yale, will retire from church". RNS. Retrieved January 17, 2023.
  3. ^ "The Rev. William Barber: activist, advocate, and preacher". NAACP. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  4. ^ "North Carolina Disciples Pastor Chosen For National NAACP Board". Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). March 11, 2009. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Hayes, Chris (July 16, 2019). "Building a Movement with Rev. Dr. William Barber II". Why Is This Happening? with Chris Hayes (Podcast). NBC News. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Cobb, Jelani (May 14, 2018). "William Barber Takes on Poverty and Race in the Age of Trump". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  7. ^ Dreier, Peter (October 24, 2013). "Activists to Watch: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber". Bill Moyers & Company. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Rab, Lisa (April 14, 2014). "Meet the Preacher Behind Moral Mondays". Mother Jones. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  9. ^ Dougherty, Conor (June 11, 2010). "U.S. Nears Racial Milestone". The Wall Street Journal. p. A3. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  10. ^ Wiggins, Lori (January 1, 2011). "Rev. William Barber: The Gospel Truth". The Crisis. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  11. ^ O'Brien, Barbara; Grosso, Catherine M. (July 12, 2011). "Confronting Race: How a Confluence of Social Movements Convinced North Carolina To Go Where the McCleskey Court Wouldn't" (PDF). Michigan State Law Review. 2011: 463–504. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  12. ^ Shimron, Yonat (June 25, 2013). "Rev. William Barber II: Moral Monday Leader In North Carolina Is Pastor, NAACP Chapter President". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 30, 2014.
  13. ^ "President Jealous and NAACP Leaders Visit John McNeil". NAACP. September 10, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  14. ^ "Guidestar Profile". Guidestar. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  15. ^ "The Rev. William Barber dropped the mic". Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  16. ^ "Americans Who'd Never Heard of Reverend William Barber II Won't Be Able to Forget Him After Last Night". The Nation. July 28, 2016. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  17. ^ "Rev. William Barber rattles the windows and shakes the walls at the DNC". NBC News. July 28, 2016. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  18. ^ "NAACP's Rev. Barber banned from Legislative Building". WNCT. June 17, 2017. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  19. ^ McClain, Dani (May 19, 2017). "The Rev. William Barber Is Bringing MLK's Poor People's Campaign Back to Life". The Nation. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  20. ^ Quillin, Martha (August 3, 2021). "Rev. Barber, hundreds more arrested at DC protest for voting rights, higher wages". The News & Observer. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  21. ^ "William J. Barber II - MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  22. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation by Rev. William J. Barber II with Barbara Zelter". Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  23. ^ Laarman, Peter (January 14, 2016). "A Third Reconstruction? Rev. William Barber Lifts the Trumpet". Religion Dispatches. USC Annenberg. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  24. ^ "Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing". Penguin Random House. Retrieved August 5, 2019.

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