Willie T. Barrow
National Visionary

Born December 7, 1924, Burton, TX

Minister, Activist, Chairman Emeritus of Rainbow PUSH Coalition

Rev. Willie T. Barrow has earned her nickname, the "Little Warrior," through her never-ending pursuit of justice. 

One of seven children, Barrow was born on December 17, 1924 in Burton, Texas.  Her mother and father, who was a minister, had a profound influence on her life's work and taught her to "take on the burden of her fellow man."  As a student in the 1940's, Barrow challenged the local school system's policy not to provide bus service to African American students. 

Barrow attended Warner-Pacific Theological Seminary in Portland Oregon, and became an ordained minister after graduation.  She met her husband, Clyde, in Portland and the two traveled to Chicago in June 1945, where Barrow began working as the youth minister at the Langley Avenue Church of God. 

Barrow's involvement in the Civil Rights movement began in the 1950's when she became a field organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  She organized demonstrators who participated in the movement's marches and sit-ins, including the historic 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 March on Selma Alabama.  She also set up chapters of the Poor People's Campaign and participated in voter registration drives and economic boycotts.

In 1962, she worked with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to create Operation Breadbasket, an organization focused on meeting the needs of underserved black communities.   Jackson would later found Operation P.U.S.H (People United to Serve Humanity) based on Operation Breadbasket.  Barrow replaced Jackson as executive director of Operation PUSH in 1984, and over the last 20 years has served the organization in various capacities, including chief operating officer, vice chairwoman of the board, and consultant.  (In 1985, Jackson founded the National Rainbow Coalition and in 1997, he merged the two organizations together into the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.)

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
As an advocate for universal human rights, Barrow has led delegations to North Vietnam, South Africa, the Middle East, Canada, and Bermuda, among other locations.  She has also crusaded for issues such as AIDS in the black community, children's welfare, and domestic violence.  Her political involvement include serving as Rev. Jackson's Illinois campaign manager in his 1984 run for President, and an eight time Super Delegate for the Democratic Party.  In the pulpit, Barrow also serves as minister of justice for the Vernon Park Church of God. 

Barrow's work has been recognized through honorary doctorates from the Bennett College in Greensboro, NC, Southern California School of Ministry, and the University of Monrovia, Liberia.  Her numerous awards include Woman of the Year City of Chicago 1969, Indo-American Democratic Organization's Humanitarian of the Year Award, Image Award from the League of Black Women, and the Christian Women's Conference History Makers Award. 

Barrow and her late husband, Clyde, were married for over fifty years and had two children. 




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