Rev. William Barber II in 2018 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Photo by Andrea Morales.

The Rev. Dr. Willam Barber II — a fighter for economic justice and co-leader of the revival of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last movement — will speak at a rally against the Byhalia Connection Pipeline Sunday.

The rally, hosted by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, is at 3 p.m. at Alonzo Weaver Park, next to Mitchell High School, 658 W. Mitchell Road. Attendees should park at the school.

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Barber co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, a faith-based movement against poverty and systemic racism. King organized the original Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, the same year he came to Memphis to support a sanitation strike and was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel.

Barber accepted an invitation from members of MCAP, said Justin J. Pearson, a co-founder of the organization.

Poor People’s Campaign

“(The Poor People’s Campaign is) committed to highlighting where you have systemic racism, systemic poverty and ecological devastation and degradation,” Pearson said. “This is a perfect case of both those possibilities.”

A longtime activist and preacher, Barber pastors Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He was president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP before stepping down to found the new Poor People’s Campaign.

The Poor People’s Campaign joined efforts against the pipeline because Memphis’ fight is an example of how poor communities of color have historically shouldered the burden of environmental degradation, said the Rev. Regina Clarke, national digital social justice organizer for the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign.

“The routing of the pipeline shows how those who have some level of privilege disregard those who they may not see as quite on their level,” Clarke said. “We deal a lot with police violence but this is pollution violence. This is environmental violence and we’ve got to stop it.”

Byhalia Pipeline background

Byhalia Pipeline — a joint venture of Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation — announced its plans for the Byhalia Connection Pipeline in 2019. The proposed route would connect the Valero Memphis Refinery and a Valero facility in Marshall County, Mississippi. The route runs through several Black neighborhoods, including Westwood, Whitehaven and Boxtown.

The Memphis City Council will hold a third and final reading of a proposed ordinance against the pipeline on April 20. MCAP will lead a march at noon April 19 from the National Civil Rights Museum to Memphis City Hall to urge the council to pass the ordinance.

The pipeline company has also filed eminent domain cases to seize land rights from at least 10 Memphis landowners who wouldn’t agree to sell easements on their property. A judge will hear arguments at 11 a.m. April 23 from attorneys representing two landowners and from company lawyers on whether Byhalia Pipeline is allowed to claim eminent domain under Tennessee law.

Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at carrington.tatum@mlk50.com


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