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The Third Reconstruction Book Review (2016)

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

How A Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear

Book Author: Dr. Rev. William J. Barber, Jr.

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An extremely powerful movement in North Carolina, started by Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II, is currently sweeping across the nation. Rev. Barber declared that the 2008 election of Barack Obama signified the possibility of a Third Reconstruction. He attributes this to fusion coalitions. The First Reconstruction was from 1865-1877 (12 years). The Second Reconstruction was from 1954-1968 (14 years). Rev. Barber believes that we are knee-deep in the Third Reconstruction (2016). In this book, he outlines not only the specific examples that align with the first and second reconstruction, but he also explains how his Moral Movement (also known as Moral Mondays) is changing the landscape of America.

In 2013, Rev. Barber and sixteen of his friends refused to accept the extreme makeover of North Carolina's state government that they knew would most affect the poor, those without healthcare, those who for so long have had their votes suppressed, those who deserved equal pay for equal work, and more. They went to the North Carolina statehouse to exercise their constitutional right to publicly instruct their legislators and hear from the people about how our state’s extremism affected them. What seemed like a small action in utilizing their right to protest started a fusion coalition which consisted of people from all backgrounds, "black, white and brown, women and men, rich and poor, democrat and republican, gay and straight, documented and undocumented, employed and unemployed, doctors and patients, people of faith and people who struggle with faith." They all found a common ground on what the reverend turned into Moral Mondays. Moral Mondays consisted of 13 simultaneous rallies in each of North Carolina's congressional districts in one day.

Rev. Barber explains that Moral Mondays were not just about politics, left or right, democrat or republican, liberal or conservative, it specifically focused on:

  • overcoming the fears they’d played upon for decades to become what, at our best, we all hope and pray to be.

  • exposing the conspiracy of the governing elite to maintain absolute power through divide-and-conquer strategies.

Rev. Barber explains how the barber class and governing elites use the divide-and-conquer strategies even today. One, in particular, that stood out to me was when the Reverend explained how Jim Crow decided to go to law school, put on a suit, and become Mr. James Crow, Esquire. Lee Atwater, a chief Republican strategist explained how this was done when he stated:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing. States’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. (p.109)

This type of hidden language is even used today. Rev. Barber also talks about getting away from all the side distractions like gotcha moments, hyperbole, and cliches. He believes that we must, "shift the public consciousness by engaging in moral critique." He gives many examples in his book on how to do this. Being raised as a Christian and still very active in my faith, the one that stood out the most to me was this one:

as a pastor, I also knew that the US Constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing religious freedom, protected the right of every church, synagogue, and mosque to discern together what God’s definition of marriage is...but the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law was a constitutional and moral principle which our movement had not only to endorse but also to defend. In the end, it didn’t matter whether my faith tradition told me marriage was to be between one man and one woman; all of our faiths made clear that the codification of hate is never righteous. Legalized discrimination is never just. And a moral fusion movement cannot be divided by the fear-based tactics of so-called conservatives. (p.87)

Most of the issues that Rev. Barber and his coalition supported did not have majority support in the polls before they started Moral Mondays. Nonetheless, after they shifted the public consciousness by engaging in moral critique there were significant changes in how North Carolinians felt about key issues. To name a few:

  • Fewer than 25 percent agree with repealing the Racial Justice Act.

  • 54 percent of North Carolinians now would rather raise taxes and give teachers a pay raise than cut taxes.

  • 58 percent of North Carolinians say we should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.

  • 66 percent of North Carolinians now don’t agree with the North Carolina legislators’ strict limits on women’s reproductive rights.

  • 68 percent of voters oppose cutting early voting and favor an alternative to voter ID.

  • 73 percent favor outlawing discrimination against gays in hiring and firing. (p. 112)

I found this book to be remarkably easy to read. I believe it was easy for me because Rev. Barber used a lot of scripture and faith-based stories in the first few chapters. I would suspect, it might be somewhat difficult for a person who does not have any faith interest to get through the first few chapters without some knowledge or relatability to Christianity or any other faith. Nonetheless, Rev. Barber does a great job of aligning his life experiences with history, his current mobilizing and organizing work, as well as outlining his 14 Steps Forward Together. Rev. Barber believes that we need to learn from the first and second reconstruction as well as the resistance and things that were done to deconstruct the first and second reconstruction. This will then allow us to understand how we can apply those lessons at this moment. I definitely recommend this book as a good read and a great guide for people to get involved to enact change. (End of Book Review)

To learn more about Rev. Barber's Moral Movement watch this PBS Special on YouTube:


Notable Quotes in the Book

“When people of all different faiths and colors came together and demanded change from a moral perspective, it touched the conscience of the nation."

“When Jim Crow decided to go back to law school and become Mr. James Crow, Esquire, we fought him in the courts and in boardrooms, advocating for affirmative action and anti-discrimination policies.”

“We who believe in freedom and justice must remember the summary of nonviolent struggle often attributed to Gandhi: First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

“My very first fight in Martinsville, Virginia, etched this principle of moral leadership deep in my soul: Before you get loud, be sure you’re not wrong.”

“It’s not enough to conquer the opposition. In a nonviolent struggle, we are committed to fight on until we win our adversaries as friends.”

“We can never be friends with our enemies, of course, until they stop trying to destroy us. But even in the midst of a struggle, Jesus said, we can love our enemies.”

“When so many folks’ 401k’s turned into 101k’s, they saw what poor people have always known: that an economy built on the backs of slave labor simply doesn’t work for most citizens.”


Reference - APA Citing

Barber II, W.J. (2016). The third reconstruction: How a moral movement is overcoming the politics of division and fear. Beacon Press.

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