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Rev. William J. Barber II discusses the morality of citizenship in 2017 Weil Lecture

November 3, 2017 | M. Clay

In delivering the 2017 Weil Lecture on American Citizenship, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II asserted that the political language of left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal is “too puny.”

“Some issues are not about leaning left and right. They do not have equal moral standing. Some issues are just about right versus wrong…What we face today is whether we can be a government of, by, and for the people,” said Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro. He is also the architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement Marches in Raleigh and former president of the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NC NAACP).

The UNC Gospel Choir opened the event with a song.

Institute for the Arts and Humanities Director Mark Katz thanked the students for their musical performance and welcomed the audience to Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall. He then discussed the more than 100-year history of the Weil Lecture.

“We at the IAH are proud to be the stewards of the Weil Lecture on American Citizenship,” said Katz. “The IAH has hosted the lecture since the year 2000. But the history of the lecture goes back to 1915.”

The Weil Lecture is a biennial series sponsored by the Weil family. The first lecture was delivered by former president William H. Taft after he finished his term but before he served on the U.S. Supreme Court. Other notable lecturers include Jon Huntsman, Jimmy Carter and Eleanor Roosevelt. The 2015 lecturer was U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.

“It was May 9, 1960 when a dynamic but controversial figure gave a speech called ‘The struggle for Racial Justice,’ A title that is just as relevant today as it was more than 60 years ago. The speaker was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Katz explained.

Katz then introduced UNC Law Professor Theodore Shaw, director of the Center for Civil Rights. Echoing Katz, Shaw introduced Barber as “our time’s Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”  (The video above is entirely Barber’s speech. For the entire event footage, view the livestream video on the IAH YouTube Channel.)

After opening with the Weil Family history, citing the North Carolina political climate in 1915 when the lecture was established, Barber’s speech included the history of fusion politics during Reconstruction, white supremacy, and Jim Crow. Barber related events 100 years ago to current events like the white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, VA, National Football League players taking a knee during the national anthem, and demonstrations at Confederate monuments.

“This [white supremacy resurgence] is not new,” Barber stressed. “The very heart and soul of our democracy is at stake.”

Barber also announced the Poor People’s Campaign during the lecture. “It is time… Beginning in 2018 across 25 states and the District of Columbia, from Mother’s Day until the summer solstice, 40 days of” expressing moral dissent, including demonstrations and civil disobedience.

“Martin Luther King is dead. Rosa Parks is dead. Coretta Scott King is dead. But we are alive and we are their children and we must express our moral dissent.”

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