Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the National Poor People’s Campaign, speaks during a Memphis Community Against the Pipeline rally at Alonzo Weaver Park in Memphis on Sunday. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50

The Rev. Dr. William Barber II chastised churches, charitable organizations and politicians for accepting donations from Byhalia Pipeline at a rally Sunday at Alonzo Weaver Park in Southwest Memphis. He told them to return the money.

“I don’t care what you are and I don’t care how Black you claim to be. If you took money and you claim to represent Black folk … you need to give it back publicly,” Barber told the crowd of about 100 at the rally organized by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline. “You need to come out against them publicly,” he said, including the NAACP as an example.

“If you took money, you’re taking 30 pieces of silver to betray your people.”

Byhalia Connection Pipeline

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Byhalia Pipeline has donated more than $1 million to local organizations, including $25,000 to the NAACP Memphis Branch. The Memphis Memorial Committee, which is raising funds to erect a statue of Black journalist Ida B. Wells on Beale Street, accepted a donation but later returned it.

“Give it back because they want to hurt the community, and don’t give it back sneakily,” Barber said. “Don’t put it in the minutes, put it in the paper. Make it a headline. Stand up with the people. We got to stop selling out our community, especially selling them out for chump change.”

Van Turner, president of the NAACP Memphis Branch and a member of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

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

Around 100 people gathered at Alonzo Weaver Park on Sunday to rally against the Byhalia Connection Pipeline. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50

Gaining national attention

Barber is the second prominent national figure to speak at a rally held by MCAP to oppose the Byhalia Connection Pipeline crude oil project. Former Vice President Al Gore, an environmental activist and Nobel Prize winner, spoke last month at the same park and called the project “reckless” and “racist.

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.

Pipeline opponents have argued the pipeline would endanger the city’s water supply as it passes through a wellfield and over the Memphis Sand aquifer.

‘Every one of you ought to be bothered’

“Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Barber closed his remarks with the story of Karmen Johnson-Tutwiler, a Memphis landowner who is suing the company alleging they took advantage of her medical distress to get her signature on paperwork that sold them an easement on her land. Her exclusive story was featured Thursday by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism.

“Every one of you ought to be bothered, ought to be upset, ought to be angered that a company would try to trick a woman … who’s in the midst of a medical emergency, just so they could steal and rob you of your rights,” Barber told the crowd. “Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights.”

Byhalia Pipeline has filed eminent domain cases to seize land rights from at least 10 Memphis landowners including Johnson-Tutwiler. A judge will hear arguments at 11 a.m. Friday from attorneys representing two landowners and from company lawyers on whether Byhalia Pipeline is allowed to claim eminent domain under Tennessee law.

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

The ordinance stipulates that any pipeline project would have to seek the body’s permission before crossing city property, including roads.

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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