At one point during a memorial and visitation service honoring civil rights icon Willie T. Barrow on Thursday night, a speaker invited all of Barrow’s godchildren in the audience to stand.
Several dozen rose — a mere fraction of those who counted her as their godmother.
“Rev. Barrow bragged about all 100 plus of us,” Renee Thomas told a crowd of several hundred at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters in Bronzeville. “As the name implies, she was a mother sent by God.”
Barrow’s daughter, Patricia Carey, jokingly told the crowd: “I am the No. 1 goddaughter” before reading the lyrics to a song she thought fit her mother’s life: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Barrow, who died on March 12 at 90, touched many in the crowd who saw her as a mother figure as well.
Kublai Khan Muhammad Toure, 67, recalled how “as a young man in my 20s — coming from the streets — she came together with me and some of my friends and gave us some ideas on how to conduct ourselves as young black men and our responsibility to the community.”
Toure, a community activist who was part of the Black Power Movement in the 60s, which some people labeled as gangs — counted Barrow as a mentor.
When his stepson was shot and killed by gang crossfire in 1991 and Barrow heard Toure was contemplating revenge, she reached out and convinced him it was not the right choice.
“She said, ‘You know, sometimes, when the fire is at its peak, you don’t run in the house. You wait until it calms down and then you approach it,’ ” recalled Toure, who noted that despite her calm demeanor, Barrow was known as the “Little Warrior” for a reason.
“She was mild-mannered to a certain degree, but if you crossed that line, she’d check you, and the way that she put it, you understood. There was no doubt about it . . . and she saved me a lot of grief in life.
Inside the Rainbow PUSH auditorium, Barrow’s casket was placed in front of the stage. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, sat directly in front of it. To Emanuel’s left, separated by several seats and an aisle, sat Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan. A few seats to Emanuel’s right sat Rev. Jesse Jackson. Several rows back sat Rev. Al Sharpton. The Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church also sat in the front.
According to the glossy program handed out at the event, mayoral contender Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was slated to speak. But addressing the crowd from the podium, Garcia’s wife, Evelyn, said her husband was out of town. Before quoting Scripture, she said: “He asked me to say farewell to my friend.”