By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
At 74, the Rev. John S. Barckley, is a foot soldier in the continued fight for justice, educating the masses and keeping the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy alive, and has no plans of stopping.
“Continuing the legacy means the struggle that fought for and died for and Mrs. King picked up and said, ‘We’re going to carry this further,’- is the same in me. The struggle still continues,” Rev. Barckley told the AFRO. “It’s just lifelong and I don’t know another way.”
The Rev. John S. Barckley with Martin Luther King’s widow and Chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission Coretta Scott King. (Courtesy Photo)
For Barckley, who lived through his activism, assassination and was personally involved in the fight to make his birthday a federal holiday, Dr. King is more than just a man who is celebrated every January. King is Barckley’s role model.
“I liked the fact that he was educated and the fact that he had great oration. He could speak powerful and his use of the language. The words, they were so eloquent. They would just bounce. They would hit. And the way he dressed. He presented himself to me like a role model. Even going into pastoral work, all that came with me, and still today I cherish that. Dr. King was a great man,” he said.
Though the Civil Rights leader always inspired Barckley, it was not until after King’s death that he was able to take on the mantle of continuing his legacy. Times were different and dangerous, during King’s fight, and the young Barckley was in the middle of his own service- as he was in the military until 1967.
“I attended the March on Washington (August 28, 1963). And at the time I was in military service so by being in the military service I had to be careful of my movements, but it was in my heart at that time,” Barckley said.
The Rev. John S. Barckley served as an accountant with the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission and now continues King’s legacy in his actions. (Courtesy Photo)
The riots of 1968, after King’s assassination, were one of Barckley’s first calls to action. “When the riots hit, it was a rough time in the city. I remember it vividly. Buildings burning. I felt rage at that time, and I never forgot it,” he said.
After his retirement from the military in 1967, Barckley sought employment with Continental Baking Company as a route salesman. With the riots of ’68, he was afforded the opportunity to make good money because White workers could not go into Black neighborhoods without being robbed or worse. Even Barckley admitted he had a few dangerous run ins, but his Blackness and dedication to his people and job allowed him to become a fixture in the community.
He used his benefits from working as a route salesman to attend college at what is now Strayer University, received a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting and was recruited to work for the Department of Treasury in 1978. It was at the Department of Treasury that he truly was able to begin his since lifelong work on behalf of King.
In 1983, when the legislation for a national holiday in honor of Dr. King’s birthday was first implemented, the bill contained no appropriation, thus no money for the commission, Barckley explained.
“So the Senators- Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Biden pushed legislation to have the federal agencies to chip in to help with food supplies, transportation and labor as well. So they came into the department of treasury for the need for an accountant for the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday Commission,” he said.
With three hours to turn around his application, Barckley applied for the job and was initially hired on a one-year assignment as the official accountant for the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday Commission, in which he worked closely with the Civil Rights leader’s widow, Corretta Scott King, who was chairman of the Commission.
“On the first year we got thousands and thousands of contributions coming in to the Commission to continue the work. But after we got the extension, money dried up. It dried up to the point, where there were times we’d have to go into our own pocket, to get certain things to get it through. But we made it,” he said.
He said former President George H.W. Bush and Sen. Robert Dole were extremely instrumental in getting more money for the Commission, by holding a luncheon and rallying big spenders to donate their money to the King holiday cause.
Barckley stayed with the Commission until about 1990, when it received appropriations, which meant the federal government controlled the money. He returned to the Department of Treasury until his retirement in 2003.
However the King footwork did not end.
When he began his call to ministry in 1985, at a church on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he was already working with the Commission and taking what he learned to influence King celebration’s within the church.
“In 1986, when we celebrated the first holiday honoring Dr. King, I had a service at my church,” Barckley said. “And I dare say I might have been the first church on the Eastern Shore to honor Dr. King’s birthday back then,” said the Reverend.
Since, he has been part of the ministerial staff of New Bethel Church of God in Christ since 1988.
Over the year he’s also organized several celebrations for King’s birthday with the Department of Treasury, and served as the keynote speaker, invocator and master of ceremonies for programs in his honor. Barckley has also given lectures and worked alongside professors at Washington Adventist University in order to create programming around King’s life and legacy.
Now he is a paraeducator at Newport Mill Middle School in Kensington, MD, where he also seeks to keep King’s dream alive.
“There, I enjoy hanging with the kids, teaching them, bringing forth Dr. King’s legacy, encouraging them to read books on Dr. King and putting it out there any time I can in that regard,” he told the AFRO.
Further, through his effort in making King’s birthday a national holiday, Barckley found another way of serving his community- delivering news.
During his time with the Commission, former AFRO Publisher Frances Murphy interviewed him and others about their efforts. He was so inspired by Murphy’s article, he began buying and distributing the AFRO to the masses.
“From that point on, I started coming to the AFRO to get papers and distribute them. I think I started off getting about eight a week and then it grew to about 350 to 400 a week,” he said. “Today I still do the AFRO. My biggest location is the Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ. And out there I can do about 300.”
As the battle for justice and equality continues with movements like Black Lives Matter, Barckley sees King’s legacy and hopes that his generation, and those prior, can be an inspiration for the current fight.
“I think Black Lives Matter is important because it brings another generation in and their thoughts and feelings,” he said. “It’s the same effort- respect, opportunity. So I’m in favor of it,” he said.
“I’m glad of that kind of spirit because we need it to challenge the other side- because do matter.”