Activist Rev. Willie T. Barrow, often referred to as “The Little Warrior,” may have been small in stature but her impact on Chicago, the nation and the world was extremely large.
Barrow who fought for women’s rights, labor rights, and human rights, marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala. and started what would become Chicago’s Rainbow PUSH Operation died at her home Thursday, March 12. She was 90-years-old.
“Today all Chicagoans mourn the passing of Reverend Willie T. Barrow,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a public statement Thursday. “From a teenager who demonstrated for equality in the segregated south to a revered Chicago icon who helped to found Operation Breadbasket, Reverend Barrow spent her life on the front lines in the fight for justice.”
Rainbow PUSH Operation leader and fellow civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. called Barrow a “freedom fighter” in a recent statement.
Barrow’s fight for equality began at the age of 12 in her hometown of Burton, Texas. She noticed that while white children could ride the school bus to school, she and other black children had to walk.
At 16 Barrow moved to Portland, Ore. to pursue ministry. While in Portland she organized a church, worked as a welder at a shipyard during WWII, and fought for labor rights. She met her husband, Clyde Barrow, in Portland and they later moved to Chicago where she attended Moody Bible Institute and made a tremendous contribution to Chicago.
“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,” President Barack Obama said in a news release Thursday. ” 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.”
In addition to Barrow’s work in Chicago, she was an important part of civil rights marches in the South as an organizer for Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1950s and 60s.
As a field organizer, Reverend Barrow was responsible for the organization of transportation, shelter, meetings and rallies for the demonstrators who came to participate in the marches and sit-ins during that era. Beginning in 1953, she served in this capacity and continued her field organizer position through the legendary 1965 March on Selma, Alabama where she trained new recruits, organized boycotts and demonstrations on Dr. King’s behalf, and participated in voter registration drives.
Barrow’s influence also extended beyond the United States. In 1968 she led a delegation to North Vietnam to discuss ending the war.
One of Barrow’s many godchildren wrote about the minister’s influence in her life in a recent Huffington Post article. In her editorial attorney Lonna Saunders remembers something Rev. Barrow would say often, “We are not so much divided as we are disconnected.” Barrow’s efforts to bring people with perceived differences together in order to achieve progress will not be forgotten.