Toward a Third Reconstruction

William J. Barber II

by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

Photo credit Auburn Seminary


Ed. Note: This past week, Beacon Press released The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, by Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  The book is both a chronicle and an organizing manual. It describes the growth of the Moral Movement in North Carolina and provides organizing principles for those who would engage in the fusion politics Rev. Barber believes can lead to a new justice movement for this country. As Rev. Barber says in the book, “helicopter” activism does not work. No one can fly into another state and show the people how to work for fusion politics. Instead, each place must find its own way, as the excerpt below explains:

Ours is a movement raising up leaders, not an organization recruiting followers. If we refuse to be divided by fear and continue pushing forward together, I have no doubt that these nascent movements will swell into a Third Reconstruction to push America toward our truest hope of a “more perfect union” where peace is established through justice, not fear. This is not blind faith. We have seen it in North Carolina. We have seen it throughout America’s history. And we are witnessing it even now in state-based, state-government-focused moral fusion coalitions that are gathering to stand against immoral deconstruction. Ours is the living hope of America’s black-led freedom struggle, summed up so well in Langston Hughes’s memorable claim that although America had never been America to him, even still he could swear, “America will be!”

Despite the dark money, old fears, and vicious attacks of extremists, we know America will be because our deepest moral values are rooted in something greater than people’s ability to conspire. All the money in the world can’t change that bedrock truth. This is the confidence that has sustained every moral movement in the history of the world. In 1857, when the Supreme Court ruled in its Dred Scott decision that a black man had no standing in America’s courts, Frederick Douglass said,

In one point of view, we, the abolitionists and colored people, should meet this decision, unlooked for and monstrous as it appears, in a cheerful spirit. This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of an enslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to the downfall and complete overthrow of the whole slave system.

The whole history of the anti-slavery movement is studded with proof that all measures devised and executed with a view to ally and diminish the anti-slavery agitation, have only served to increase, intensify, and embolden that agitation.

He was right, of course. But he was speaking a long eight years before the end of the Civil War. Only as we reconstruct this moral movement mentality can we begin to shift the conscience of the nation. But we know as surely as Douglass did in 1857 that we will. We’ve not won yet, but we are gaining ground. When we started Moral Mondays in North Carolina, most of the issues we supported didn’t have majority support in the polls. But after we shifted the public consciousness by engaging in moral critique, 55 percent of North Carolinians oppose refusing federal aid for the long-term jobless and the unemployed.9 Fifty-five percent of North Carolinians support raising the minimum wage. Fifty-eight percent of North Carolinians say we should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. Sixty-one percent of North Carolinians oppose using public funds for vouchers to support private schools. Fifty-four percent of North Carolinians now would rather raise taxes and give teachers a pay raise than cut taxes. Sixty-six percent of North Carolinians now don’t agree with the North Carolina legislators’ strict limits on women’s reproductive rights. Only 33 percent agree with cutting funding for prekindergarten education and child care. Fewer than 25 percent agree with repealing the Racial Justice Act. Seventy-three percent favor outlawing discrimination against gays in hiring and firing, and 68 percent of voters oppose cutting early voting and favor an alternative to voter ID.

After the 2014 elections, when the extremists held on to power and succeeded in sending their leader, Thom Tillis, to the U.S. Senate, some suggested we had failed by not running Forward Together Moral Movement candidates who would champion our agenda. But a reconstruction framework helps us to see that we will not win by starting a third party. We will win by changing the conversation for every candidate and party.


Excerpted from The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, by Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.


For a review of the book and commentary, see


The Third Reconstruction