Civil Rights Icon Rev. Willie T. Barrow Has Died

Long-time Chicago-based activist and Civil Rights icon Rev. Willie Barrow has died. She was 90-years-old.

A former field organizer for Martin Luther King, Jr., Barrow was a veteran of the movement, organizing sit-ins and boycotts throughout the South, working with fellow icons Rosa Parks and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. She joined historic marches in Washington, D.C. and Selma during the 1960s, co-founded the Chicago chapter of Operation Breadbasket with Rev. Jesse Jackson (which later became Operation PUSH). In recent years, fought against Chicago’s growing gun violence and rallied to restore the Voting Rights Act.

A “little warrior” for justice, Barrow championed many causes, from women’s rights to fighting AIDS. The Texas-born activist was also a mentor to younger activists, who often called her “godmother.”

President Obama had this to say about Barrow in a recently released statement:

“Reverend Willie T. Barrow was a Civil Rights icon and a Chicago institution, a ‘Little Warrior’ in pursuit of justice for all God’s children. In 1936, when she was just 12 years old, Reverend Barrow demanded to be let on to her all-white school bus in Texas, and the fight for equality she joined that day would become the cause of her life. She marched with Dr. King on Washington and in Selma. She stood up for labor rights and women’s rights. She made one of the first pieces of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and proudly welcomed LGBT brothers and sisters to the movement she helped lead.

Nowhere was Reverend Barrow’s impact felt more than in our hometown of Chicago. Through Operation Breadbasket, the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, and her beloved Vernon Park Church, she never stopped doing all she could to make her community a better place. To Michelle and me, she was a constant inspiration, a lifelong mentor, and a very dear friend. I was proud to count myself among the more than 100 men and women she called her “Godchildren,” and worked hard to live up to her example. I still do.

Michelle and I are deeply saddened by Reverend Barrow’s passing, but we take comfort in the knowledge that our world is a far better place because she was a part of it. Our thoughts and prayers are with Reverend Barrow’s family, and with all those who loved her as we did.”

Reporting from the Associated Press contributed to this story.