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Rev. William Barber: The Politics of White Southern Republicans Are Way More Twisted Than Blue Staters Generally Comprehend

When Rev. Barber met the former chair of the Republican Party in Mitchell County, North Carolina, he found their rejection of the Tea Party shocking: "I almost fell out of my seat."

Photo Credit: AFGE / Flickr

The following is an excerpt from The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

Movements teach you to make plans and then remake them on the go. This is one of the reasons why artists have always been so essential to America’s freedom movements. Any artist will tell you that you can’t become proficient in an art without careful attention to the masters. You have to know your history, practice the moves of those who’ve gone before you, and make their music your own. But you haven’t mastered the art until you’ve learned to improvise—to take the wisdom passed down to you and write the next verse of humanity’s collective song. The art of improvisation is about negotiating the unexpected.

No sooner had we laid out a plan to take the dream home to North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts than I got a call from Tim Tyson, my cellmate from the Wake County struggle. Tim said he had heard from some folks in the western part of the state who wanted us to bring Moral Mondays to the mountains. They didn’t want to wait a month to host a Take the Dream Home rally. They wanted to know if I would come to Mitchell County that next Sunday evening, then lead a Moral Monday on the public square in Asheville the following day.

I remembered from my time as chair of the Human Relations Commission that Mitchell County was one of the places I’d been told to never drive at night. Back in the 1920s, after a black man was accused of rape in that part of the state, they had put all the black folks on one train and shipped them out of Mitchell County. I believe in fusion politics, but this sounded like a suicide mission. I told Tim we had a plan for the next month and we needed to stick with it.

Not long after I’d hung up the phone, Tim’s daddy, the Reverend Vernon Tyson, called me. The Reverend Tyson is about 80 years old and a stalwart supporter of the movement. He started talking in a way that only an old Southern gentleman can. “Reverend Barber, I heard you don’t want to go to Mitchell County, and I understand. But I’ve been preaching this gospel a long time, brother. I preached it in Methodist churches that I knew were run by the Klan. I know how hard it can be, Reverend Barber, so I called to let you know I’m coming with you to Mitchell County.” Since he was coming with me, I knew I’d have to go. With two generations of Tysons, a couple of other folks from the movement, and our new NAACP field secretary, Laurel Ashton, we set out to test fusion politics in a county that’s 99 percent white and 89 percent Republican.

When we got to the church it was packed full of white folk. The Reverend Tyson, a well-known elder minister in North Carolina, introduced me, and I got up and told the story of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, from that first HKonJ up to the present. I talked for nearly an hour, and the people just sat there, listening. When I was finished, one woman stood up and said, “Reverend Barber, we want you to know that we’ve been coming down to Moral Mondays and watching what was going on in Raleigh. We’re old Eisenhower Republicans, and we know the Tea Party doesn’t represent us. But we needed to make sure this whole ‘Moral Monday’ business wasn’t just a scheme of the Democratic Party.”

She sat down and another man stood up. “I’m the former chair of the Republican Party in this county,” he said, “but I came tonight to tell you that I’ve just resigned. Our party has been taken over by extremists. It doesn’t represent me anymore.”

Then another stood up and said, “Reverend Barber, though we don’t have any black people, we’ve decided to start a branch of the NAACP here in Mitchell County.”

I almost fell out of my seat. In the most unlikely of places, white people were coming together to establish a local branch of America’s oldest antiracist organization. Caught up in the moment, one man in the congregation stood to his feet and said, “Reverend Barber, will you lead us down the road to the home of the man who heads the Tea Party? Let’s march to his house and show him that we’re not going to take it anymore.”

I said, “Brother, let me tell you something black folk learned a long time ago: we don’t march at night.” I invited them to join us the next day in downtown Asheville, and we all held hands to sing “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”

We’d seen with our own eyes in one little church what fusion organizing could do, but I was still worried about a Moral Monday in the mountains. For weeks our critics had said, “Sure, you can get thousands of folks to come out in the progressive Triangle, but the rest of the state is red.” North Carolina’s mountains are populated by independent, conservative folks. To be honest, I was worried we hadn’t had enough meetings like the one the night before to mobilize the mountains for a People’s Assembly. I told the media we were expecting a few hundred people.

But as I was getting ready at the hotel, a young brother traveling with me came in and said, “Doc, you better hurry up. The street’s so full I’m not sure we’re going to be able to get out of here.” At first I thought there must have been an accident. But when we finally got out to the plaza at the center of town, I looked out and saw over ten thousand people packed together, spilling out into every side street. Our first Monday out of Raleigh, we were showing America that this moral movement could go anywhere. The white woman who introduced me said, “We have a saying up here in the mountains: Don’t poke the bear. Well, the extremists have poked the bear,” she said. “They’ve woken us up, and we’re ready to fight!”

It was no accident that the following year, in a midterm election when gerrymandering had all but guaranteed that most extremists would hold on to the seats that had been bought for them in America’s statehouses, two of the very few Tea Party candidates in the country to be voted out of office were in North Carolina’s mountains. It hadn’t been in our plan, but our trip to the mountains helped me see that something much bigger than North Carolina was happening through Moral Mondays. The language, look, and longevity of these protests were tapping into our best history to show America the way forward toward a Third Reconstruction.

As we continued to build out our Forward Together Moral Movement in North Carolina, making unlikely friends from the mountains to the coast, we also started getting calls from South Carolina and Georgia, Missouri and Wisconsin. Extremists funded by dark money were introducing the same ALEC-sponsored legislation we were fighting in North Carolina. People would say, “We want to have a Moral Monday here. Will you come and be our speaker?” The first thing we had to make clear was that fusion organizing always takes the long view. There’s no such thing as a Moral Monday. What’s more, a state-based, state-government-focused fusion coalition needs indigenous leadership. I could lead in North Carolina because I was raised in North Carolina, went to school in North Carolina, pastored and organized my whole life in North Carolina, lived and breathed North Carolina. We’d spent years helping our own people realize that we couldn’t wait for leadership from somewhere else to come and save us; we were the ones we had been waiting for. It was our time now.

So I wasn’t about to helicopter into someone else’s context and pretend to be an expert just as our coalition building was beginning to gain ground in North Carolina. No, the movement didn’t need another national spokesperson to fly in and out of every tragedy, feeding the media the buzzwords we are all used to hearing. What we needed, more than anything, was a fresh vision for how a moral fusion movement could help America realize her unfulfilled promises. I started telling folks who called that I wouldn’t come speak at a press conference, but I would bring a team to teach and train others in moral fusion organizing. What we had been given in North Carolina wasn’t ours to hold on to; it was a gift to be shared.

To understand a moral movement, people who were accustomed to the language of Republican and Democrat, left and right, would have to first learn freedom movement history. You couldn’t understand America’s deep need for a Third Reconstruction without studying our history of partial progress, which has been met, time and again, by immoral acts of deconstruction. In North Carolina, we’d looked back to the state constitutional convention, in 1868, following the Civil War, where the Reverends Ashley and Hood—one white and one black—had worked tirelessly to codify the language of fusion politics in our state’s primary legal document. Such cooperation could not have been possible if Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman had fought alone for their freedom. They built power throughout the 19th century by working with allies such as Levi Coffin, the white Quaker from Greensboro, North Carolina, who helped to establish the Underground Railroad. As Fergus Bordewich has chronicled in his epic history, Bound for Canaan, the abolitionist movement was a morally rooted, religiously inspired fusion coalition from the beginning.

This was the movement that created Robert Ashley, J. W. Hood, and dozens of other leaders in America’s First Reconstruction. Building their movement took decades, but when they finally came to power, they had the necessary language to begin mending the gaps in the fabric of America’s democratic experiment. “We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal,” they wrote in North Carolina’s constitution. Yes, they were two men, but they were men who’d learned to see new possibilities while singing freedom’s song. They couldn’t say, as their forefathers had, only that all men are created equal. They looked ahead to a day when their sisters would join them as full citizens of our state and wrote “all persons.” They didn’t throw out the best of Jefferson’s language; they retained it, because they loved their enemy well enough to learn from him. But their struggle had taught them to name what a slave-holding Southern gentleman could not—that all persons are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among which are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruit of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness” (emphasis mine). Workers’ rights became part of North Carolina’s constitution when former slaves were at the table during America’s First Reconstruction.

Between 1865 and 1900, interracial alliances in every Southern state arose to advance public education, protect the right to vote, and curb corporate power by reaching across the color line. These fusion coalitions outraged white Democrats because they led to raising taxes for public education. The fusion coalitions attacked the divisive rhetoric of white solidarity and pointed out the common interests of most black and white Southerners. As the fusion coalitions gained traction, more than a quarter of white voters in the South cast their ballots for interracial coalitions and the coalitions started to take political power. In the 1890s, a fusion coalition of Republicans and Populists in North Carolina swept the state legislature, won both US Senate seats, and took the governorship. Together with their counterparts in other Southern states, these blacks and whites working together in the South passed some of the most progressive educational and labor laws in our nation’s history.

But fusion politics in the South was met with a violent backlash. As these coalitions began to emerge, extremists who called themselves Redeemers started a campaign to “redeem” America from the influence of black political power and progress. Exploiting religious language, this “Redemption” movement’s aim was to “redeem” the South from Reconstruction, and it launched a frontal attack of immoral deconstruction. They immediately sought to deny the vote to blacks through violence, intimidation, and the passage of laws that, together, came to be called Jim Crow—a systematic, de jure denial of equality and rights, often achieved via the concept of “separate but equal.” From 1890 to 1908, 10 Southern states wrote new constitutions with provisions that included literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses that denied black people the franchise not because they were black but because their enslaved grandfathers had not been able to vote. Starting in 1875, these state provisions were upheld by an ultraconservative, radical Supreme Court. Later, in the 20th century, when the Supreme Court began to find a few of the provisions unconstitutional, states reacted rapidly in devising new legislation to continue the disenfranchisement of most blacks.

Everywhere and always, the Redeemers howled about the use of tax money to support public education, especially for black children, and sought to suppress the African American vote. Driven by fear, they incited “race riots” in New Orleans, Wilmington, Atlanta, Springfield, and other cities, arming poor whites and playing on old fears in order to destroy interracial democracy and create a Jim Crow political economy rooted in low taxes, low wages, and fewer and fewer voters.

When we pay attention to this history, a pattern emerges: first, the Redeemers attacked voting rights. Then they attacked public education, labor, fair tax policies, and progressive leaders. Then they took over the state and federal courts, so they could be used to render rulings that would undermine the hope of a new America. This effort culminated in the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which upheld the constitutionality of state laws requiring segregation of public facilities under the doctrine “separate but equal.” And then they made sure that certain elements had guns so that they could return the South back to the status quo ante, according to their deconstructive immoral philosophy.

Past is prologue: This history lays out how efforts to stop fusion movements have always consisted of direct acts of deconstruction on these fronts. We can see the same pattern recurring if we examine America’s Second Reconstruction—what we commonly refer to as the civil rights movement. Once again, Dr. King and Rosa Parks did not launch our Second Reconstruction alone. From the very beginning of Jim Crow, there were pockets of resistance and efforts to build fusion coalitions against Jim Crow’s injustice. Black and white stood together within the NAACP to protest lynching and develop legal challenges to segregated education. Small pockets of labor in the South continued to organize across the color line. Faith-rooted radicals such as Clarence Jordan defied Jim Crow; Jordan started an interracial community in Georgia in 1942. Like the abolitionists before them, these freedom fighters built coalitions and established interracial institutions, such as Highlander Folk School, that invested in building strength for the long haul.

As a mass movement, we can pin the beginning of the Second Reconstruction to two specific events: the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, and the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Brown had a profound and indelible impact on the United States. Declared the “case of the century,” it established that intentional segregation was unconstitutional. This ruling served to fuel the struggle for civil rights and equal protection under the law, challenging the legitimacy of all public institutions that embraced segregation. But given the Court’s lack of firm resolve, as evidenced in its refusal to order an immediate injunction against segregation, public resistance to following its mandate was inevitable. The lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, was a vicious sign of that resistance. Till’s mother refused to mourn quietly, insisting on a public, open-casket funeral for her mutilated child. Photos from Till’s funeral were published in national magazines, exposing the violence of the Jim Crow South. Rosa Parks, a seasoned freedom fighter who had attended trainings at Highlander, was devastated by Till’s lynching. She said she kept her seat on a Montgomery bus in part to protest his murder.

As the logo of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee captured so well with its image of white and black hands clasped together, the Second Reconstruction’s power was in cross-racial, cross-class solidarity, embracing Chicano workers, Jewish students, Native American sister and brothers, Malcolm X’s challenge, and the Poor People’s Campaign. What happened when they all got together? President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, mandating that projects financed with federal funds “take affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices be free of racial bias, and we saw the establishment of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We saw civil rights connected to economic justice in the Social Security amendments of 1965, which allowed the domestic community and the agrarian communities to receive benefits that had been available for a generation to other workers. We saw the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Johnson said on August 6, 1965, that the Voting Rights Act was a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that’s ever been won on any battlefield.

But LBJ didn’t say “We shall overcome” in a sudden moment of inspiration. It was a moral fusion movement that had moved him. His support for the Voting Rights Act was in direct response to the coordinated organizing of Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, and local leaders in Selma, Alabama. The Selma campaign grabbed the nation’s attention as they watched unarmed, nonviolent marchers gassed, chased, and beaten with billy clubs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. When people of all different faiths and colors came together and demanded change from a moral perspective, it touched the conscience of the nation. Moral fusion politics gained tremendous ground in the Second Reconstruction. But once again, as in the 1800s, the transformative power of moral fusion politics came under attack. For a while, opponents tried the old terrorist tactics of deconstruction. They killed the four little girls in a church bombing in Birmingham, JFK in Dallas, Medgar Evers, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, Jonathan Daniels, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, RFK, Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and others, on top of the thousands they beat, bombed, threatened, and jailed. But the great power of the Second Reconstruction was that it could not be deterred by violence. Nonviolence turned violent attacks on their head, using them to gain the moral high ground. So the extremists retooled. This is when Jim Crow went to law school and got respectable. Kevin Phillips and others began to develop the Southern Strategy, marrying old fears deeply held in the South to the self-interest of the Sun Belt and the suburbs. This is when Charles Koch stopped trying to attack the civil rights movement head-on and started investing in infrastructure. Lee Atwater, who mastered deconstruction’s new tactics and became a chief Republican strategist, said in an interview years later:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing. States’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

By using such abstractions, extremists were able to commit attention violence, holding on to power by manipulating old fears to divide and conquer people whenever we started to come together on one issue or another. But if you get down in the weeds and read the policies they implemented, the characteristic patterns of the old deconstruction are there: they used the new tools to attack voting rights, public education, fair tax structures, labor rights, women, immigrants, and minorities. Once again, they distorted religious language, declaring a New Beginning when America would once again shine as a “city on a hill.” They even called themselves a “Moral Majority,” as Ronald Reagan, their candidate for president, launched his campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi, talking about “states’ rights” on the hallowed ground where the civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Earl Chaney had spilled their blood in 1964 to challenge a state that would not acknowledge black people’s humanity.

Though some of my friends said I sounded like a professor, I knew that folks who saw a need for change in America had to know this history. The more we paid attention to the patterns of the First and Second Reconstructions, the more our experience in North Carolina made sense. Back in 2008, our little fusion coalition, hardly a year old, had shaken the nation’s governing elite to the core. With the hidden violence of their new version of the Southern Strategy, they thought they had won the battle against reconstruction once and for all. Maybe they would give a nod to democracy now and then, talking about reform on one issue or another. But they had buried the Second Reconstruction in an unmarked grave. This was their nation, after all.

But then a black man moved into the White House, a residence built by slaves. Fears that had been cynically manipulated for so long began to spill out not only on blogs and bar stools, but also on the floor of Congress. Though our coalition building in North Carolina had been as local and grassroots as the militiamen who were defending their homes at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the election of 2008 resounded as a shot heard round the world. When President Obama won North Carolina, that new electorate revealed the potential of a new fusion majority in this country. We’d been catching hell in North Carolina ever since because we had literally scared the hell out of them.

In both the First and the Second Reconstructions, it took the extremists more than a decade to mount an effective reaction. But in the face of this new electorate in the South, the extremists reacted immediately. In North Carolina we witnessed firsthand the development of an extreme effort that America’s governing elites are now trying to effect in every state of the Union. But from the start we also recognized this opposition as a confirmation of something much more important: we are participating in the embryonic stages of a Third Reconstruction.

As I’ve traveled to share North Carolina’s story, I’ve seen how a reconstruction framework can help America see our struggles in a new light. Everywhere we’ve gone—from deep in the heart of Dixie to Wisconsin, where I saw water frozen in waves for the first time—I heard a longing for a moral movement that plows deep into our souls and recognizes that the attacks we face today are not a sign of our weakness, but rather the manifestation of a worrisome fear among the governing elites that their days are numbered and the hour is late.

Sharing the story of North Carolina’s Forward Together Moral Movement, we’ve had the opportunity to drink from tributaries that run toward the great stream of justice throughout America—whether in the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, I Can’t Breathe, and Black Lives Matter movements; the fast-food workers’ Raise Up and minimum wage movements; the voting rights and People Over Money movements; the women’s rights and End Rape Culture movements; the LGBTQ equality movements; the global movement to address climate change; or the immigrant rights, Not One More movements. Within the framework of a Third Reconstruction, we see how all of our movements are flowing together, recognizing that our intersectionality creates the opportunity to fundamentally redirect America.

Within two years of our first Moral Monday in Raleigh, we saw Moral Mondays movement coalitions come together in 14 states, not only in the South but also in the Midwest, New York, and Maine. Even as our North Carolina coalition partners organized over 200 events, rallies, and protests across the state, the Moral Mondays movement was taken up and extended in other states, growing beyond our ability to keep count. Ours is a movement raising up leaders, not an organization recruiting followers.

If we refuse to be divided by fear and continue pushing forward together, I have no doubt that these nascent movements will swell into a Third Reconstruction to push America toward our truest hope of a “more perfect union” where peace is established through justice, not fear. This is not blind faith. We have seen it in North Carolina. We have seen it throughout America’s history. And we are witnessing it even now in state-based, state-government-focused moral fusion coalitions that are gathering to stand against immoral deconstruction. Ours is the living hope of America’s black-led freedom struggle, summed up so well in Langston Hughes’s memorable claim that although America had never been America to him, even still he could swear, “America will be!”

Despite the dark money, old fears, and vicious attacks of extremists, we know America will be because our deepest moral values are rooted in something greater than people’s ability to conspire. All the money in the world can’t change that bedrock truth. This is the confidence that has sustained every moral movement in the history of the world. In 1857, when the Supreme Court ruled in its Dred Scott decision that a black man had no standing in America’s courts, Frederick Douglass said:

In one point of view, we, the abolitionists and colored people, should meet this decision, unlooked for and monstrous as it appears, in a cheerful spirit. This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of an enslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to the downfall and complete overthrow of the whole slave system.

The whole history of the anti-slavery movement is studded with proof that all measures devised and executed with a view to ally and diminish the anti-slavery agitation, have only served to increase, intensify, and embolden that agitation.

He was right, of course. But he was speaking a long eight years before the end of the Civil War. Only as we reconstruct this moral movement mentality can we begin to shift the conscience of the nation. But we know as surely as Douglass did in 1857 that we will. We’ve not won yet, but we are gaining ground. When we started Moral Mondays in North Carolina, most of the issues we supported didn’t have majority support in the polls. But after we shifted the public consciousness by engaging in moral critique, 55 percent of North Carolinians oppose refusing federal aid for the long-term jobless and the unemployed. Fifty-five percent of North Carolinians support raising the minimum wage. Fifty-eight percent of North Carolinians say we should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. Sixty-one percent of North Carolinians oppose using public funds for vouchers to support private schools. Fifty-four percent of North Carolinians now would rather raise taxes and give teachers a pay raise than cut taxes. Sixty-six percent of North Carolinians now don’t agree with the North Carolina legislators’ strict limits on women’s reproductive rights. Only 33 percent agree with cutting funding for prekindergarten education and child care. Fewer than 25 percent agree with repealing the Racial Justice Act. Seventy-three percent favor outlawing discrimination against gays in hiring and firing, and 68 percent of voters oppose cutting early voting and favor an alternative to voter ID.

After the 2014 elections, when the extremists held on to power and succeeded in sending their leader, Thom Tillis, to the US Senate, some suggested we had failed by not running Forward Together Moral Movement candidates who would champion our agenda. But a reconstruction framework helps us to see that we will not win by starting a third party. We will win by changing the conversation for every candidate and party. To be sure, we’re not there yet. But if we reconstruct a movement mentality that begins to create a public consensus about what is acceptable, then we will see a reconstruction of the legal and statutory protections that establish justice and ensure the common good.

Indeed, this is already beginning to happen. At home in North Carolina, we’ve seen local people’s assemblies emerge in “conservative” districts, changing the conversation in places that are bright red on any political strategist’s map. When we educate people about how our state’s refusal to expand Medicaid is closing rural hospitals and killing white people just the same as black people, they don’t follow the party line. They see how their own health is tied to the well-being of others.

As we’ve walked with service workers, framing their life-and-death struggle as a moral issue, we see living-wage campaigns becoming a ballot issue. When public opinion gets ahead of the party line, we need to put the question directly to the people.

Likewise with education. We’ve seen that we have to expose the connections between “community schools” or voucher programs and resegregation. Fully funded public education is a bedrock of multicultural democracy. In North Carolina, our constitution has provided legal grounds for this argument. But it is an essential moral issue in every state.

As our coalitions move from a new moral consensus toward legal and statutory changes, we know we have to put faces on the issues that our partners care about. We cannot be abstract. Directly affected people must lead the way and we must support and stand with them. While we continue to petition for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and in a score of other states, we are convening People’s Grand Juries to hear testimonies of citizens who are suffering because their elected officials are failing to uphold their oaths of office.

Even as we focus on real people’s lives and stories, we must work to help people see how their issues are connected. Constitutional marriage amendments and so-called “religious freedom bills” must be exposed as a cynical political ploy to exploit religious convictions to divide gay folks from black folks. When any of us suffer, all of us suffer. We must stand together.

The same is true in our criminal justice system. The Third Reconstruction must abolish the death penalty in America on grounds of its unjust application. But this cannot be narrowly defined as an abolitionist struggle in which convicted killers are pitted against victim’s family members. We must end the death penalty instead as a first step toward dismantling America’s system of mass incarceration, which has rightly been called a “new Jim Crow.” We cannot do this without reexamining three-strikes-you’re-out laws and a broken plea-bargaining system in which prosecutors elected by a white-majority electorate in counties have unchecked power in over-policed inner-city neighborhoods.

Because political power is a democracy’s chief safeguard against injustice, we must continue to engage the voting rights issue after the US Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed protections against voter suppression in Southern states that had been in place for half a century. This fight is, in many ways, bigger than Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That expansion of voting rights 50 years ago was a concession to the civil rights movement. We didn’t get all we were asking for. Now, 50 years later, we’re fighting to hold on to the compromise. What we really need is a constitutional amendment to guarantee the same voting rights in every state. This must be a cornerstone of the Third Reconstruction.

In the church where I was raised, the old folks used to sing a song with the words, “Hold on just a little while longer ... every little thing is gonna be all right.” Holding on to that faith, moral movements have never known ahead of time how long we would have to struggle before we reach higher ground. But we’ve always known that, when we get there, every little thing is gonna be all right. So we hold on to faith and take care of one another as we travel on this way. And lest we get distracted by the snares and cares of this world, we say to one another, “Forward together! Not one step back!”

Excerpted from The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

 

 

 

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is co-author of The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear, published in January 2016 by Beacon Press. In January 2016 he also began filing regular dispatches from the southern movement for racial justice for The Nation, resuming a role Martin Luther King Jr. once filled for the magazine. Rev. Barber II is the architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, president of the North Carolina NAACP and pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro. He is also president of Repairers of the Breach. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is cofounder of the Rutba House for the formerly homeless and director of the School for Conversion. His books include the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II's The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and FearCommon Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (with Shane Claiborne), and The New Monasticism.

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