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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering journalist and activist Billy Barnes

Esser remembers Anne and Billy Barnes. Anne became active in politics later than her husband, a journalist who joined the North Carolina Fund in 1964 and often offered his services to African-American and Native American organizations at low rates.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

FRANCES WEAVER:
Let's talk a little about Billy Barnes and his work with the Fund.
GEORGE ESSER:
Billy Barnes was recommended to me by John Ehle. At that time, he was in Atlanta and was the southern reporter for Business Week. And let's see, Billy came to the Fund in January of '64, let's say. He's a native North Carolinian. So he's been back here twenty-six years.
FRANCES WEAVER:
How did John know him? Do you know? Is he a graduate?
GEORGE ESSER:
Oh, yes. And I think John knew him through an interview. I'm not sure that John had him as a student. I think John knew him through an interview. But Billy is not a great journalist, but he's a great person. And he took the heat. He gave the best possible support in the Fund days. He would massage the angry reporters or you know, there were a lot of young reporters who wanted to find something wrong with everything. And he taught me, he said, you know, "when the reporters come and thrust a microphone under your mouth, you have to respond." And he said, "How you respond," and he says, "You don't have to tell them anything," but he says, "You need to respond." And he would always say, "Don't get upset about things that are written about you critically. People forget things in twenty-four hours." And so I learned the hard way, I guess, that you just forget things.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Just ride it out.
GEORGE ESSER:
Just ride it out. So, Billy was very creative. He wrote a newsletter, he had a system of regular news releases, he had a system of regular radio releases. I think we had a radio network of over fifty stations that had a little five minute tapes. He produced a movie. He did a survey with Oliver Quail that, even today, stands up with the very good reflection of the way people thought in 1968 and it was not very complimentary to the state. And then Billy decided to stay here to be a freelancer. And he's now, I mean, after many years of hard work to make it, he's now got a very good, lucrative relationship with IBM and is doing very well. And at the same time, Ann began her career after the Fund, you see. And I think Ann's been a very good both local and state politician.
FRANCES WEAVER:
I'm very proud of Ann Barnes. She's done a lot of good work in Raleigh.
GEORGE ESSER:
And I think, you know, she had to find herself. I think that their children are a disappointment to them. Well, the boy is doing all right, but he's not…. well, he's a painting contractor. But Ann…. I think that Chapel Hill is very fortunate to have people like Ann Barnes and Joe Hackney.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Aren't we? Oh, yes indeed.
GEORGE ESSER:
Representing us in the General Assembly. But during the '60's Ann was not active. But Billy Barnes was a fine supportive…. And has remained supportive. And any low income community that asked Billy for help and can you know…. Billy does not charge them. Well, he does not charge them, you know, more than a minimum. But I know the Indians and several black organizations have called on Billy regularly throughout the years.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Well, is this for PR advice?
GEORGE ESSER:
PR advice or preparation slide shows. He's done several slide shows for the Indians. And he is a better photographer than he is a writer. And he's got a very extensive file of photographs.