Rev. William Barber and North Carolina Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove recently authored the following essay on the close connection between modern “religious freedom” proposals and the dark history of racial discrimination in the U.S.  We’re delighted to publish it here.

Extremists also remember Selma:
The ugly history behind “religious freedom” laws

By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

From Ava Duvernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmond Pettus Bridge, to the thousands we crossed the Bridge with and the millions that joined by TV, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grassroots leaders who organized for years, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers, and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960’s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history. Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem with laws which purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate another’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle out of which the 14th Amendment was born—a struggle which continued to play out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s state houses today. We cannot understand the new “religious freedom” law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was part and parcel of America’s first Reconstruction, guaranteeing for the first time that people who had been legally codified as three-fifths persons would enjoy equal protection under the law in this country. The very notion of equal protection for black Americans was so offensive that it inspired an immediate backlash. Two features of resistance to America’s first Reconstruction are essential to note.

First, it was deeply religious. White preachers led the charge, calling themselves “Redeemers” and framing equal justice for black Americans as a moral danger. At the same time, the threat was explicitly sexualized. Black men were portrayed in respectable newspapers as “ravishing beasts,” eager to rape white women.

Here in our native North Carolina, white vigilantes were armed and encouraged to defend their women, leading to the “Wilmington Race Riot” of 1898. Violent demonstrations of white men’s sexual fear led to lynchings throughout the South and Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ida B. Wells, the courageous African-American journalist from Memphis, did the dangerous investigative work to show that the great majority of these lynchings were not about sex but political power.

When the Civil Rights Movement—a Second Reconstruction—was finally able to draw national attention to the vicious patterns of Jim Crow in the 1960’s, the challenge to white power was again conflated with sexual fear. As Danielle McGuire has chronicled in her book “The Dark End of the Street,” civil rights workers were consistently accused of wanting interracial sex and/or having homosexual tendencies.  Read More


Moral MarchIn an apparent effort to provide air “both sides” of the issue, Raleigh’s News & Observer posted two essays side-by-side this morning on its editorial page — one extolling the growing movement for justice in North Carolina by Rev. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and the other an editorial criticizing it from the Lenoir News-Topic.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that this is kind of like matching LeBron James (Barber) against a high school player (the News-Topic) in a game of one-on-one, the two essays are helpful in illustrating a critical fact about the leaders of the modern Right: They just don’t get it.

According to the defenders of Jones Street at the News-Topic:

“[The protests] are pointless…because the scope of the so-called injustices being highlighted are both limited, failing to rouse outrage in general public, and easily addressed by democratic means.”

Is that so? Skyrocketing inequality and suffering (and even hunger) in the world’s wealthiest nation is a “so-called injustice”? And it can be “easily addressed”?If this is so, why have both of these problems been ignored and allowed to get dramatically worse for decades under the leadership of both political parties?

Sorry guys. It’s not that simple. The list of critically important issues held up by the Forward Together movement and given voice by Rev. Barber are a lot more than just a handful of grievances that can be fixed with a bill or two (or even an election or two). Indeed, they highlight some fundamental flaws that have emerged in our democracy that will take decades to repair — if we’re lucky. Bringing real justice to our economy is a lot different than fixing a list of broken streetlights.

It’s understandable that some folks on the Right find Barber and the movement he helps lead annoying and that they wish it would go away. Unfortunately, for them, that just ain’t gonna happen.


There’s a simple reason that the Pope-Civitas Institute (an organization that was founded by one of the state’s richest and most powerful men and named after his father) still struggles to be taken seriously in the North Carolina policy debate after years of effort, even in the current hard right political environment — namely, the low quality of the content it regularly produces.

New confirmation of this fact is on full display today in the group’s latest below-the-belt attack on the President of the North Carolina NAACP, Rev. William Barber.

Of course, scurrilous Civitas attacks on Barber are nothing especially new. Every few months, it seems, the group finds some out-of-date and unflattering photo of Barber to marry with some laughable implication that Barber is somehow enriching himself with public funds. Remember the downright offensive “Money Monday” baloney from a couple of years back? As we explained at the time:

“…it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the utter disconnection from reality that these libelous attacks bespeak.

On the one hand, they are just so downright (and comically) crude and ham-fisted that you almost have to cringe in embarrassment for the Pope-Civitas people. Seriously, the notion that giant organizations with proud histories like the NAACP, AARP and the YWCA are protesting the myriad regressive actions of the 2013 General Assembly because some branch happens to administer a few thousand dollars in public funds is just so patently absurd that it’s hard to believe that a supposedly serious group – a group nervy enough to describe itself as “North Carolina’s Conservative Voice” – would stoop to allege it.

Similarly, to imply that Rev. William Barber – a courageous man who works night and day at enormous personal sacrifice, physical pain and even personal risk; a man who directs a tiny paid staff and who has, for years, tirelessly traveled the length and breadth if the state in an old minivan to help countless underdog causes – is doing what he is doing in order to advance his own personal financial agenda, is just so utterly wrong and, for lack of a better word, malicious that it must render any fair-minded observer virtually speechless.”

Now, Pope-Civitas is at it again — trying to manufacture a controversy out of whole cloth over the fact that Barber serves as the unpaid chair of the the board of a Goldsboro nonprofit that receives Department of Public Instruction funds (via a competitive grant process) to help serve low and moderate income families (irrespective of their religious beliefs) and promote community economic development.

Read More


Valentine’s Day 2015, February 14, will be especially memorable this year. This is from the good fols at the NAACP and HKonJ coalition:

On this Valentine’s Day, bring your sweetheart to Raleigh and JOIN THE LARGEST LOVE AND JUSTICE MOVEMENT SINCE SELMA!

We will show our LOVE for JUSTICE! We LOVE justice in Education; We LOVE Economic Sustainability, We LOVE Workers and Workers’ Rights and Livable Wages; We LOVE Health Care For All, Medicaid Expansion: We LOVE our Environment; We LOVE Equal Protection Under the Law, without regard to creed, race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation; We LOVE Voting Rights For All; We LOVE criminal justice.

We LOVE the most vulnerable within our State and Nation; We LOVE the power and beauty of diversity within our State and Nation; We LOVE our neighbors; WE ARE IN THIS LOVE TOGETHER! And We are determined to go “FORWARD TOGETHER, NOT ONE STEP BACK!”

On February 14, 2015, we will gather at 9:00 a.m. in downtown Raleigh. The march will begin at 10:00 a.m. after which we will begin the mass people’s assembly on the doorstep of the State Capitol. Read More


The Associated Press is reporting that the FBI is looking into the death of a Bladenboro teenager found hung to death near his home.

From the AP:

A prosecutor says the FBI is looking into the hanging death of a black North Carolina teen after his family questioned the official ruling that he killed himself.

Seventeen-year-old Lennon Lacy was found hanging by a dog leash and a belt from a swing set in a trailer park in August. The state medical examiner ruled it a suicide, based on reports from law enforcement and a county coroner. That coroner says he now questions if it was a suicide because of so many unanswered questions.

Bladen County District Attorney Jon David confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that an FBI agent has been assigned the case.

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy

Lacy, 17, was found dead in late August, hanging from a swing set near his home. While local police and the state medical examiner have classified his death a suicide, his family members have questioned that, pointing out that the outgoing teenager was excited about an upcoming football game and was found wearing shoes that didn’t belong to him.

Lacy, who was black, also had a romantic relationship with an older white woman and his body was found near a predominantly white trailer park in the rural Southeastern North Carolina town.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is holding a march at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Bladenboro to call for a more thorough investigation into Lacy’s death. Check the NC NAACP’s Facebook page for more information about the march.

The state NAACP also released a report last month  from a pathologist who questioned the state medical examiner Deborah Radisch’s ruling in Lacy’s death, noting that the state official wasn’t provided photographs of the swing set, according to Raleigh television station WRAL.

From WRAL:

Lacy was 5 feet 9 inches tall, while the cross beam on the set was 7.5 feet from the ground. There were no swings attached to the structure, nothing at the scene that he could have stood on, and a grommet that the noose was tied to was nearly 2 feet away from the swing’s climbing platform, the report states.

The noose also did not appear long enough for him to have been able to tie it from the platform and still have a loop big enough for him to place it over his head, according to the report.

Bladen County District Attorney Ben David has said he believes the investigation was thorough and welcomes a federal review.

You can read the entire article here and the NAACP report here.