The Rev. Bill Barnes spent his life advocating for Nashville's poor and their access to affordable housing. The civil rights activist who Mayor Barry called "the conscience of our city" died Monday. He was 86.
At a Metro Council meeting in 2015, Barnes joked: "I am an over-the-hill Methodist pastor who is trying to figure out what to say in three minutes." But he knew exactly what to say, really — at that Metro Council meeting, and anywhere. He wanted to talk about breaking the cycle of poverty.
Barnes, a Nashville native, dedicated his life to integrating people and lifting them up. To Barnes, building affordable housing and breaking up poverty was the first crucial step toward alleviating it.
"I know what concentrated poverty means," Barnes said at the 2015 council meeting, ticking off its signifiers. "Single parent households. Violence. Crime. Low performing schools. Stress. Tension. Food deserts. Unemployment. Teenage pregnancy. And we have within our power the ability to deconcentrate poverty."
In the mid-1960s, Barnes founded Edgehill United Methodist Church, the city's first purposely integrated congregation. He spent three decades working in public housing in Nashville, and he wrote a book titled To Love A City. Barnes' dedication to Nashville and its people was steadfast.
"I just yearn for the children in concentrated poverty areas. And I yearn for the city," he said.
Barnes is the namesake for Nashville's affordable housing fund. In a tweet on Monday, Mayor Megan Barry wrote that Barnes gave voice to the voiceless and spoke for the unhoused.