William “Bill” Thomas Barnes
An Educator, Statesman, Mentor, Friend
Today, we bid fare-de-well to our friend and mentor, William “Bill” Thomas Barnes. My grandmother called him Junior Barnes. The year I started first grade, Barnes graduated from Morehouse College. By happenstance, Barnes became the first male teacher in an elementary school in Bibb County, Georgia.
His Morehouse classmate, Donn Clendendon, had been hired to become the first male elementary school teacher in Bibb County. Clendenon received an offer to play baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates within hours of signing his contract.
Clendendon voided his teacher’s contract, and by 1960, he helped the Pirates win the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees. 1969, he helped the hapless New York Mets win the World Series. Barnes became principal of the Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School in the early 1970s.
In 1973, he hired me to teach fourth-grade students in the same classroom I had been a fourth-grade student. He gave me my first coaching job, hiring me as Head Coach of the football ten years after I had played Center on the Hamilton football team.
In 1977, Barnes went to Washington as an administrative aide to Congressman Bill Evans. Thus, he became the first Black person to work in the halls of Congress from Bibb since Jefferson Long represented the Bibb County District during Reconstruction.
As a mentor, Barnes marveled at my maturity from a radical political activist into a thoughtful counselor at law. In 2014, I moved my church membership back home and decided to drive from Atlanta each Sunday to worship with my aging mother at Bethel C. M. E. Church; Mr. Barnes kept a watchful eye.
Each Sunday, he approached me with an extended hand and said, “You kept your word.” Yes, Mr. Barnes, I kept my word and will continue to keep my word because I know you are watching from above.
Thank you for all the life lessons.