Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays leader, joins us for an extended discussion on President Obama’s legacy and the steps forward, and the death sentence handed down this week for Dylann Roof for his murder of nine black worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, with Part 2 of our conversation with the Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the NAACP in North Carolina, as we look at President Obama’s farewell address in Chicago.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Tuesday, the president gave his address at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center. This is President Obama speaking Tuesday night.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All of us have more work to do. If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps, while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children, because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce. And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama speaking at the McCormick convention center last night.
For more, we’re joined by Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, Moral Mondays leader and author of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.
Reverend Barber, we were talking in the first portion of our discussion on President Obama and his final farewell—his farewell address to the nation. Your response? And also, your assessment of President Obama’s legacy?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, now, some of the work I’m doing now also is with Repairers of the Breach, as we’re working on developing a moral fusion coalition of faith leaders and activists and others who really address the moral issues of race and class together. And one of the most insightful things he said last night was raising that issue. For instance, healthcare. In my state, Medicaid expansion would have gone to 500,000 persons if we had expanded it in North Carolina. And the only reason our Legislature didn’t, in essence, they didn’t like a black man in a white house that wanted to do this. But the reality is, 346,000 poor whites would have been impacted. More whites in raw numbers, but also a large number of African Americans because of the disparate impact on the lack of healthcare with—inside the African-American community. So, healthcare is a race and a class issue.
We’ve seen attacks on voting rights. This is what I hear him—heard him saying in his speech. We’ve seen an attack on voting rights. But voting rights attack is not just a black issue. It’s a black, white, Latino issue, because if you attack the African-American community and you suppress the black vote, that’s also an attack on living wages and healthcare and electing progressive candidate, because it undermines the ability of whites and blacks to be of fusion coalitions, particularly in the South, where there’s been this history of conquer and divide by making poor and working-class white people think that their problems emanate from black and brown people getting advantages, rather than seeing, as he mentioned last night, the oligarchs in their enclaves that basically turn us against each other for their own profits and their own purposes.
So he really was trying to have a conversation with America last night. Now, what is interesting about that, Juan, is President Obama was the most qualified person to talk to us about race over the last eight years, but was not allowed to in many ways. Remember when he started talking about race, when his friend was arrested at Harvard University, he basically was castigated, shut down and had, as commander-in-chief, to basically apologize to a street cop. That’s one of the tragedies of his tenure, is that America, in many parts of it, did not want to hear what he had to say.
Also, whenever you talk about President Obama—and I heard my good friend, the congressman, say some of the things that he said the president didn’t do, but you cannot say this—and I don’t agree with the president on many things, but you cannot say that he said, "Yes, we can," or "Yes, we did," without talking about how the Congress said, "No, we won’t," on every term, on every term. So, despite the vision that he put forth, he had a Congress, an extreme—Boehner, Ryan and McConnell. You can never let them off the hook.
And in spite of that, you look at all of the great things he was able to do in terms of bringing us out of the recession, providing healthcare, which was a vision of Teddy Roosevelt more than a hundred years ago, at least opening up wages at the federal level, and now being willing to call on us to address the issue of voting rights, because I contend, lastly, that what he was also saying to us last night is that the most underreported story, my friend Ari Berman has said, in this election was voter suppression—800 less voting sites in the African-American community, voter suppression like we haven’t seen since the days of Jim Crow, gerrymandering that looks like a kind of political apartheid. And we cannot dismiss what that is doing to our democracy, at a time when if you register 30 percent of African Americans in the South and they connect with whites and Latinos, you can fundamentally change the South and change the country. We have to deal with this issue of voter suppression, if we’re going to save the soul and the heart of our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: And, by the way, on Jeff Sessions—this is the second day of the hearing—what actually would happen if he were attorney general? When it came to that specific issue, how do you see it playing out, both he as attorney general and you as part of this major racial justice movement that is growing, what you call the Third Reconstruction?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, we’re going to be on a necessary moral collision course. But that’s not unlike what has happened down through the years. I said to someone the other day, this is not America’s first time electing a racist president who has used race and economic fears to mix a poisonous brew of division in this country. This is not the first time we’ve had someone try to cover up their past racism. Remember, George Wallace tried to reframe himself in ’68 and ’64, when he ran for president. And what he did became the model for Reagan and for Nixon in terms of the Southern strategy.
But just like in those days, persons stood up to them, like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass stood up in the days of abolition, and the social gospelists like Walter Rauschenbusch and others stood up in the late 1800s, and people like Whitney Young and others who stood up in the early days of the 1900s, and W.E.B. Du Bois, and just like Dr. King and Rosa Parks and so many others, John Lewis, stood up in their day. It’s just our time. It’s our time to take on extremism. But we can’t do it from a left-right, conservative-versus-liberal perspective. We have to do it from the moral center. And we have to say we will challenge anyone whose views are morally indefensible and constitutionally inconsistent and economically insane.
I believe that Jeff Sessions has clearly shown, in his past, his immediate present, and even in his immediate present today, that he is—has a contempt for the 15th Amendment, that he has a contempt for voting rights. This man applauded the Shelby decision. He didn’t just say—he didn’t say the courts are—he didn’t just say, "Well, the courts have made a decision," and not disagree. He applauded it. And since that time, as we’ve seen this voter suppression not like we’ve seen since Jim Crow, he has not said Shelby was wrong. In fact, yesterday, the North Carolina case was brought up, and he said he did not even know about the case. Now, this man wants to be attorney general. He does not know about a case that the U.S. Department of Justice came alongside the NAACP and other activists, litigated, and the courts ruled that intentional, surgical racism and discrimination had happened in a Southern state. Instead, after Shelby, it was Jeff Sessions who said, "People are not being denied in Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia as they once were." This person, this man—
AMY GOODMAN: Just to clarify—just to clarify, Reverend Barber, that on Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order granting a stay on special elections called for by a lower court in North Carolina last November, the federal court ruling that North Carolina must hold off-year elections for the state Legislature because the state’s redistricting plan represented an unconstitutional gerrymander, right?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Unconstitutional, apartheid-like gerrymandering. That’s what they said, yes. But that’s a pause. What the Supreme Court justice said is there are about three cases out there, so he’s having a pause, seeing if the Supreme Court is going to take up the matter or if they’re going to just say that they stand beside the lower court, which was the Fourth Circuit, and it was unanimous. It was a unanimous decision. We believe that at the end of the day the Supreme Court is going to agree with the federal courts that this is just a pause, because right now, according to the ruling of the Fourth Circuit, unanimous ruling, we have in North Carolina an unconstitutionally constituted Legislature, a Legislature where the extremists who have hijacked the Republican Party have a supermajority, not because they won the election fair and square, but because they cheated through voter suppression and through the worst form of voter gerrymandering that we have seen since the 19th century. They packed 51 percent of African Americans into 27 out of 120 state House districts, and 49 percent of African Americans into 15 out of 50 Senate districts, thereby creating what we call apartheid districts, which is a violation of the Voting Rights Act and a violation of our Constitution.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend Barber, I wanted to ask you about another national story that happened this week in a neighboring state of yours on Tuesday. Dylann Roof was sentenced to death in Charleston, South Carolina, for the murder of nine black worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in June of 2015. The jurors reached the unanimous verdict after three hours of deliberation. Roof had acted as his own attorney during his trial. And in a brief opening statement during the sentencing phase, he offered no apology and no explanation for his massacre, telling jurors he was psychologically fit to stand trial. Your response to that?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Let me try to frame that, since we were also talking about President Obama, in light of the eulogy that he gave regarding those deaths, when he did the eulogy at Representative—state Representative Pinckney’s funeral. A lot of people have made much to do about him singing "Amazing Grace," but they forget that one other line of that song was "Through many dangers, toils and snares." They also fail to realize or recognize that before he got to "Amazing Grace," he laid out a lot of grief, a lot of pain, about the reality of racism in this country. I’m anti the death penalty. I do not believe in it, for a lot of reasons, morally. The person I follow, as Jesus Christ, was crucified by the state. We know that we have killed innocent African Americans and other minorities and poor people. In this case, I’m still concerned. And rather than him getting the death penalty, I think we—I would rather him live, and we study, because we still have not probed what caused Dylann Roof to do this. I think it’s a tragedy if we just say, "Well, this was just a rogue individual."
AMY GOODMAN: That was Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, Moral Mondays leader, author of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us. If you want to go to Part 1 of our discussion about news of the day with both Reverend Barber and Illinois Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, from President Obama’s farewell address to the attorney general confirmation hearings for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, go to democracynow.org. Thanks for joining us.