The Rev. Willie T. Barrow, who championed civil rights for minorities, women, gay people and consumers; opposed the war in Vietnam and apartheid; and mentored generations of community organizers, including a young Chicagoan named Barack Obama, died on Thursday at her home in Chicago. She was 90.
Her death was confirmed by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the alliance of two groups founded by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., of which she was chairwoman for a decade.
Ms. Barrow organized her first civil rights demonstration when she was 12, protesting the fact that she and her fellow black students had to walk to school in her hometown in Texas while whites could ride the school bus. She went on to conduct sit-ins and boycotts with luminaries of the movement, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, and joined in the 1963 March on Washington and the protests two years later in Selma, Ala. More recently she voiced concern over gun violence and dilution of the Voting Rights Act.
Willie Beatrice Taplin was born in Burton, Tex., on Dec. 7, 1924, to Nelson and Octava Taplin. Her father was a farmer and a Church of God minister. When she was 16 she moved to Oregon, where she studied theology, organized a Church of God group and worked as a welder in a shipyard, where she met Clyde Barrow, a fellow shipyard worker. They married and moved to Chicago in 1945.
In the early 1970s, she helped Mr. Jackson found Operation PUSH (the letters originally stood for People United to Save Humanity, later changed to Serve Humanity) and succeeded him as executive director when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s. She later served as chairwoman.
She was a fiery advocate and fierce adversary, as the organization pursued its civil rights goals. It encouraged young people to study and stay in school. And, with mixed success, it pressed major corporations to hire more black workers and executives under threat of boycotts. Mr. Jackson merged PUSH with his National Rainbow Coalition in 1996.
Ms. Barrow was a mentor and self-described godmother to young activists, including the future President Obama. The president said in a statement, “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.”
The Rev. Calvin S. Morris, the retired executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago and her friend for 48 years, described her as “an old-fashioned schoolmarm of the civil rights movement.”
After her son, Keith, announced that he was gay, she publicly embraced gay rights. He died of AIDS in 1983. Her husband died in 1998. No immediate family members survive.
Married for 56 years, she was inspired to write a book, “How to Get Married ... and Stay Married.” Among her sage prescriptions: “Don’t try and make your mate over. It cannot be done.”
While Ms. Barrow mentored men and women alike, she was an unabashed feminist.
She learned by opening her home “to all of the powerful women in the movement — Coretta Scott King, Dorothy Height, Addie Wyatt,” she told The Chicago Sun-Times in 2012. “We have to teach this generation, train more Corettas, more Addies, more Dorothys.
“If these youth don’t know whose shoulders they stand on, they’ll take us back to slavery. And I believe that’s why the Lord is still keeping me here.”
Willie Beatrice Barrow (née Taplin; December 7, 1924 – March 12, 2015) was an American civil rights activist and minister. She was the co-founder of Operation PUSH, which was named Operation Breadbasket at the time of it's creation alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson. In 1984, she became the first woman executive director of a civil rights organization, serving as Push's CEO. Barrow was the godmother of President Barack Obama.
Born Willie Beatrice Taplin in Burton, Texas, to Nelson, a minister, and Octavia Taplin, one of seven children. When she was 12, she organized a demonstration with fellow students to protest that white students were allowed to ride the bus, but black students had to walk to school. Barrow confronted the bus driver and demanded that he let her fellow students ride. When the bus driver confronted her about it she said "Y'all can kill me if you want to. But I'm tired." When Barrow turned 16, she moved to Portland, Oregon, to study at the Warner Pacific Theological Seminary (now Warner Pacific College). While still a student, Barrow and a group of black residents helped build one of the first black Churches of God in the city; she was ordained as a minister after graduation. She started working as a welder during World War II at theKaiser Shipyards in Swan Island, Washington, where she met Clyde Barrow, whom she married in 1945 in Washington state. 
The couple moved to Chicago in the early 1940s, and Barrow attended the Moody Bible Institute to further her call to service. They lived on the South Side, and Barrow ran the youth choir at Langley Avenue Church of God. According to Barrow, she was approached by the minister to do some additional organizing for civil rights movement actions. Barrow campaigned for Harold Washington who became the first Black Mayor of Chicago in 1983. In 1984 and 1988 she worked for Jesse Jackson's Presidential campaign. 
Awards and achievements
- 2014 Champion of Freedom Award
- 2012 Bill Berry Award
- Woman of the Year of Chicago 1969
- Image award from League of Black Women
- Christian Women's Conference History Makers Award
- Doctor of Divinity Degree from Monrovia.
- Libreria and Leadership Certificate from Harvard University
- Indo-American Democratic Organization's Humanitarian of the Year Award
- C.F. Stradford Award for her lifelong work on the front lines of the civil rights movement.
- 2006 Black Heritage Awardee
In the 1950s she worked with Martin Luther King and other Chicago ministers and activists as a field organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the 1960s she helped organize the Chicago chapter of Operation Breadbasket with Rev. Jesse Jackson. She opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and led a delegation to North Vietnam in 1968. She joined the National Urban League in 1943 and the National Council of Negro Women in 1945. She was the godmother of President Barack Obama. In 1973 she protested social services cuts by the Nixon administration. 
Barrow additionally was an activist for the LGBT community, which included fighting for HIV/AIDS victims. She also advocated for fair labor practices, took an anti-Vietnam war stance, and was vocal about women's rights. In a 1987 interview on Chicago Tonight she said, "You see ministers, they would rather have a minister who could not articulate and perhaps may not have even been called ... than to have an articulate woman that knows something about the rebirth of Christ and knows about the natural birth and the new birth. They would rather try to have a man articulate than a woman. ... As Jesse [Jackson] grew, his vision grew. Anytime that there was a committee was formed, it would be all men. I'd say 'Jesse, you haven an unbalanced committee. You've got to have some women.' ... He kept putting women on committees, kept making them managers ... then it became a habit, a part of his vision."
Significant events attended
- 1963 March on Washington
- Bloody Sunday (1965)
- She participated in the Project AIDS Memorial Quilt as acknowledged by The President and First Lady.
- State of Illinois Center against the school strike on Sept. 22, 1987 
- 50th anniversary of the March 7 Bloody Sunday march in Selma
- Democratic National Convention in Denver on Aug. 26, 2008 as a superdelegate
- 2001 March against U.S. Naval bombing in Vieques, Puerto Rico
- Million Family March
- She spoke on January 6, 1994 at a Violence Against Women forum. Her stance was that it starts within the family and crosses racial boundaries and financial boundaries.
Each Saturday she would participate in demonstrations and she participated weekly in Rainbow/PUSH's events. She helped many people by writing checks to cover college tuition for them. She mentored over a hundred people in PUSH, helping them to move on to the next stage of the movement. Barrow was co-pastor of the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago. She helped raise money for assisted living development in the south and to fund after school programs.  She had focused on gun violence in Chicago and changes to the Voting Rights Act that were taking away rights that the Selma marches helped create. Barrow died of respiratory failure on March 12, 2015 at age 90 in Chicago. Following her passing, A tribute to her life was held at Operation PUSH headquarters ; Her funeral at her church Vernon Park Church of God.
Willie T. Barrow (Willie Beatrice Taplin) (b. December 7, 1924, Burton, Texas - d. March 12, 2015, Chicago, Illinois) was a civil rights activist who devoted her life to championing the rights of African Americans and working to improve their circumstances, both on the front lines of public demonstrations and as a mentor to generations of young activists. Barrow engaged in her first act of protest as a child, when she sought to change the rule that required African American children to walk to school while European American children rode on school buses. When she was 16 years old, she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she worked as a shipyard welder and attended Pacific Bible College (since 1959 Warner Pacific College). She also organized and led an African American Church of God congregation. Barrow relocated (in 1945) to Chicago and attended Moody Bible Institute. By the 1950s, she had become a civil rights filed organizer for such groups as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She participated in such campaigns as the March on Washington (1963) and the Selma March (1965). In the mid-1960s, she helped found the Chicago chapter of Operation Breadbasket, which focused on increasing the hiring and promotion of African Americans. Barrow worked with civil rights leader Jesse Jackson when he founded Operation PUSH (which also had the goal of economic empowerment in black communities), and she later served as the organization's executive director. After the 1996 merger that created the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, she headed that group's governing board for 10 years. In addition, Barrow was a vocal feminist and a supporter of gay rights.
, (born , Burton, Texas—died , Chicago, Ill.), American civil rights activist who devoted her life to championing the rights of African Americans and working to improve their circumstances, both on the front lines of public demonstrations and as a mentor to generations of young activists. Barrow engaged in her first act of protest as a child, when she sought to change the rule that required black children to walk to school while white children rode on school buses. When she was 16 years old, she moved to Portland, Ore., where she worked as a shipyard welder and attended Pacific Bible College (since 1959 Warner Pacific College); she also organized and led an African American Church of God congregation. Barrow relocated (1945) to Chicago and attended Moody Bible Institute. By the 1950s she had become a civil rights field organizer for such groups as the . She participated in such campaigns as the (1963) and the Selma March (1965). In the mid-1960s she helped found the Chicago chapter of Operation Breadbasket, which focused on increasing the hiring and promotion of African Americans. Barrow worked with civil rights leader when he founded Operation PUSH (which also had the goal of economic empowerment in black communities), and she later served as the organization’s executive director. After the 1996 merger that created the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, she headed that group’s governing board for 10 years. In addition, Barrow was a vocal feminist and a supporter of gay rights.