Title: Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, October 7, 2003. Interview O-0037.
Interviewer: Gritter, Elizabeth
Interviewee: Barnes, Billy E.
Abstract: Billy E. Barnes is a photographer known for his documentary work on racial and economic justice issues in the 1950s and 1960s. Barnes begins the interview by explaining how he grew interested in issues of inequality while working as a photographer for McGraw-Hill Publishing in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1950s and early 1960s. After establishing a reputation for himself, Barnes was offered a job with the newly formed North Carolina Fund in 1963. Founded by Governor Terry Sanford and shaped by executive director George Esser, the North Carolina Fund was a precursor to President Johnson's more broadly conceived War on Poverty. Barnes describes the aims of the North Carolina Fund at length, emphasizing how the black power movement was demonstrative of the need to involve people in decision-making processes. He also discusses the Fund's ideology of providing people with opportunities and training rather than welfare, and its overall goal of breaking the cycle of poverty. Throughout the interview, Barnes describes the work of North Carolina Fund volunteers, who sought to educate children and implemented programs like Head Start. Researchers interested in the history of the North Carolina Fund, the photography of Barnes, or the uses of documentary photography in social justice movements of the South will find particularly useful material in the second half of the interview, in which Barnes describes a number of his most memorable photographs to the interviewer. The interview concludes with Barnes's brief discussion of his accumulated records about the North Carolina Fund and his failed effort to establish a radio station, owned and operated by the people, in Wautauga County, North Carolina. Barnes places the work of the North Carolina Fund within the broader context of economic justice and community empowerment, while paying attention to the political tensions that shaped the War on Poverty in the South.