As many North Carolinians are now sadly aware, our state lost a fine man and leader this week when the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. As his hometown newspaper, the Greensboro News & Record reported, the former state NAACP leader’s death leaves a hole in the state’s movement for justice and civil rights.
Spearman’s predecessor at the NAACP, Rev. William Barber put it aptly this way:
“I have lost a true brother in the struggle. North Carolina and the nation have lost a champion of justice and a beloved public servant. We have all lost a freedom fighter, a man deeply committed to justice, and a man of true faith. We have lost a scholar, a preacher, a voting rights defender, an advocate for prison reform and for the wrongfully accused and a stalwart soldier in the cause of love and justice for all humankind. …. He fought the good fight and his course has been finished. But his legacy of service and works will follow him. We are certain of that. Let all people of conscience say, ‘Amen.’
The following tribute was written by Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director, North Carolina Council of Churches, and Isaac Villegas, Governing Board President of that organization and published on the Council’s website yesterday:
By now most of us have heard the hard news that the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman died Tuesday evening. Our hearts are breaking for his family, his friends, and his countless allies in the work of God’s justice. As his friends and justice allies at the North Carolina Council of Churches, we are in mourning.
While acknowledging our grief, it is his life of passion and progress that we want to lift up. He was President of our Governing Board just prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways that it’s hard to remember what was going on in the years just before. Indeed, those were the years just after the Emmanuel AME terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., an event that portended much of the racial violence and gun violence that has swept our country in recent months. As a new Executive Director in those days, Dr. Spearman’s counsel was invaluable to me in helping steer the position of the Council.
I came to learn that this was his modus operandi. He offered consistent and wise counsel across a plethora of justice issues. He was a champion for the LGBTQ community, a critic of the criminal justice discrepancies plaguing our nation, and a strategist for change. He didn’t just talk about what needed to happen. He helped make it happen and he did all of this with just the right touch of challenge and compassion.
Those of us who worked with him are better for watching his style. Those of us who knew him are better for the benefit of his counsel. Those who never worked with him or knew him are also better because he put forth great energy and passion to make the world around us a better place. We have all benefited from the gift of T. Anthony Spearman’s life, calling us to be the best we can be. His life of ministry in the church and on the streets was a testimony to God’s love for this world.
Thanks be to God for T. Anthony Spearman. May the peace of Christ rest upon all his family and friends.