THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Rev. Willie T. Barrow
“The Little Warrior”
The Chicago Urban League presents the Edwin C. “Bill” Berry Civil Rights Award to
Reverend Willie Taplin Barrow for her unwavering dedication to the work of human rights, civil rights and social justice in America and the world. November 10, 2012
Reverend Willie Taplin Barrow is 4 feet 11 inches tall and yet she stands shoulder to shoulder with the human, political and civil rights greats of this nation and the world.
I was born on a farm. I know how to pick cotton. I know how to find sweet potatoes. I know how to dig sweet potatoes. I know how to pull corn. And that’s what I did for a living. And I was happy doing it.
Her fight for fairness began at the age of 12 in her hometown of Burton, Texas. Willie Taplin and her African-American classmates were forced to walk to school while white students passed them by on the bus. That changed one day when Willie had had enough.
I told the driver, I said, “We all are alike. We all got butts. And all we got to do is sit down on a seat and you got plenty of room. So why do you want me to get off? Just because I’m black? No, we’ve got to change that.“
The buses in Burton, Texas began taking black children to school and Willie Taplin had found a calling.
At 16, I moved to Houston. I started out looking for a job. I couldn’t find a job. Finally, I got a job with General Motors as a welder.
One calling was to union organizing. She would become one of the first female union welders in America.
I hung out with Dorothy Height. I hung out with Addie Wyatt. She taught me how to join the labor movement, because she was the only woman and they were ignoring her. But she says I’m not a fighter, I’m going to bring Willie on. So, she said, “Willie, you’ve got to join the union.” And so, I joined a union and fought with Addie Wyatt.
In 1968, Reverend Barrow led a delegation to North Vietnam to negotiate an end to the war. No place has ever been too far for her to travel in behalf of justice. She has literally been all over the world.
When Dr. King called me, I didn’t have money. I was staying at people’s houses, because you couldn’t stay at a hotel. Then when Coretta King and Dorothy Height and all of those people would come to Chicago, my house was open.
I was always impressed with the level of passion that she had and continues to have. The high energy, the dedication to problem solving and solutions. The role she would play in a leadership capacity, much of it just by example.
Today at the age of 87, Reverend Barrow is still passionate about social justice issues. Her love of people remains strong.
For nearly a half century she is a link to Dorothy Height and a link to Dr King. Walking down the street or rolling in a wheelchair she has never stopped.
Everything that we have fought for and died for – if they don’t understand whose shoulders they stand on we are going to lose it. So, I want to build some more Addie Wyatt’s, some more Willie Barrows some more Dr. Abernathy’s and some more Dr. Martin Luther King’s.
It is a great privilege for the Chicago Urban League to present the Edwin C. “Bill” Berry Civil Rights Award to Reverend Willie Taplin Barrow for her unwavering dedication to the work of human rights, civil rights and social justice in America and the world.