December 23, 2014

George Barrett
Civil rights attorney

By Hedy Weinberg

"The Citizen," aka George Barrett, embraced life. His nickname was more than a moniker to him. It was his life's work. A nationally recognized labor and civil rights attorney, George represented the marginalized and disenfranchised. He dedicated his life to translating the promises of the Bill of Rights into a living reality for all Americans, strategically advocating on a range of issues from religious freedom to freedom of speech, from fair treatment of immigrants to abolition of the death penalty.

A devout Catholic who regularly attended mass, George understood the importance of religious freedom and opposed government sponsorship of religion.

A civil rights champion who desegregated lunch counters and Tennessee State University, George also enthusiastically defended the First Amendment and did not believe government should restrict speech and assembly for anyone.

Most recently, George sought to ensure access to the ballot box by challenging Tennessee's photo ID law, arguing that the law was a partisan voter-suppression tool that disenfranchised thousands of eligible voters. Although George lost this case, he remained undaunted in his pursuit of the franchise for all citizens.

I could always count on George to both challenge me and give me that extra dose of courage when needed. He was tenacious, he was irreverent, he was fearless and he was an inspiration to all of us who believe in equality and justice. His passion for our freedoms was surpassed only by his love for his family and friends. He took great joy in traveling to Ireland with each of his 11 grandchildren to share their family history.

The way George lived and worked and pursued his passion is best described by the late journalist Molly Ivins, when she wrote, "So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it ... rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

George didn't have to tell us how much fun it was for him. We could see it.

This op-ed appeared in Nashville Scene on December 23, 2014.