A late start did little to quell the message as the state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) spoke Sunday afternoon.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II was in town to conclude a weekend’s celebration of the Surry County chapter’s 50th anniversary.
Barber addressed a crowd of more than 100 at the Payne Memorial Triumphant Pentecostal Holiness Church.
The service began with the a cappella singing of traditional spirituals, which got the people in the mood for a powerful message.
And a powerful message it was.
In her introduction, chapter President Faye Carter said Barber’s visit was a long time coming.
“We’ve been trying to get Dr. Barber to come here to Mount Airy for some time, so this is quite an honor,” she said. “This is a man who stands for justice for all men.”
Addressing the crowd after receiving a standing ovation as he took the podium, Barber said the founders of the local movement were heroes.
“This was 1962,” he said. “This was before the march on Washington. This was before desegregation. This was before the Voting Rights Act.
“At that early time, the founders of the local civil rights movement recognized the need for social justice. This was not in a big city, but right here, where people recognized the difference between right and wrong. They didn’t wait to see what would happen at the march on Washington. They set the pace because they knew that the just shall receive righteousness.”
Barber touted the strength not only of those early founders of the local civil rights movement, but the need for continued vigilance.
“They knew that we wouldn’t be people who shrink, who give up,” he said, noting that spirituality played a large part in the early Civil Rights movement.
“We persevere because we know that faith is the substance of hope,” Barber added, noting that the local chapter was founded almost exactly one year before an Alabama church was bombed, killing several children.
“These were terrorists who said that if you care about your civil rights, we’ll blow up your children,” he said, noting that their plan had quite a different outcome.
“It backfired because the just live by faith,” he said. “We don’t shrink. We persevere. Those young girls’ blood became the spiritual fertilizer that grew the Civil Rights movement. You can’t mess around with people who have the righteousness of the Holy Ghost!”
But the state president noted that the need for vigilance has never been greater than today.
“We need to remember what we were fighting for then, because it informs our continued struggle,” he said. “You have to know your history to understand it when it repeats itself.”
And Barber said there are several issues today that merit monitoring.
“Why are we still here now? Because then we were trying to get them to comply with the law,” he said. “Our fight now is to make sure they abide by the law and keep moving forward.”
Barber noted that issues including the school voucher program and charter schools, economic justice and voting rights are still problems that must be addressed.
“Can we rest now?” He asked. “No. We can’t. Our fight now is to protect and expand those rights.”
But with vigilance, great things are possible.
“The hands that once picked cotton just picked the president,” he said to the applause of the crowd.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.