GOLDSBORO, N.C. — As he labors to win over black voters whose support is vital to his Democratic presidential bid, Pete Buttigieg found a receptive host on Sunday in a civil rights activist who has sought to continue the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s push for a racially diverse national campaign against poverty.
After attending services at the Rev. William Barber’s Greenleaf Christian Church, Buttigieg stayed for a discussion with the Poor People’s Campaign — begun by King shortly before he was assassinated in 1968. Barber, a pastor and former North Carolina NAACP president, revived the movement to unite a new generation of Americans of all races to combat economic inequality.
The visit with Barber’s racially diverse congregation held dual value for Buttigieg, illustrating his ability to tackle racial justice issues critically important to African-Americans and giving him a chance to portray his agenda as bigger than appealing to one specific voting bloc. He also hoped to introduce himself to black voters and lay out his plans for their community through their shared Christian faith and values.
“Part of what I’m trying to do is talk about these issues, including specific racial issues around voter suppression and systemic racism, in a way that helps everyone in the country understand why we all have a stake in dealing with it,” Buttigieg told reporters after the poverty discussion. The South Bend, Ind., mayor added that he believes he is making progress with black voters, including those “who may yet not feel that they know me.”
Buttigieg discussed topics from health care to climate change during the forum that followed the church’s Sunday service, to which a campaign spokesman confirmed that the mayor brought his own Bible. Even before the candidate began speaking, however, Barber sought to defuse a question that has proven thorny for Buttigieg in his struggle to break through with black voters: whether being gay plays any role in his troubles with a constituency that can trend more socially conservative.