Civil Rights Activist, Rev. William Barber, Forced Out of Movie Theater Over Chair Dispute

Rev. William Barber | Photo: Twitter Screenshot - therealbpx

The Reverend William Barber, a prominent civil rights organizer, found himself escorted out of a showing of “The Color Purple” at AMC Fire Tower 12 movie theater in Greenville on Tuesday after employees prohibited him from using his own chair to watch the movie with his 90-year-old mother.


Barber, who has been arrested multiple times for nonviolent demonstrations on various social justice issues, expressed surprise at the turn of events. 

The pastor, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and founder of the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy at Yale Divinity School, has been open about his battle with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful chronic form of arthritis that limits his mobility. He uses two canes and carries his own chair to navigate public spaces due to his inability to sit in low chairs or wheelchairs.

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll have to do things like that with her,” Barber lamented, referring to his mother. His chair, which has accompanied him to various places, was placed in the handicap cutout at the theater to avoid obstructing pathways.

According to Barber, theater management claimed his chair violated fire codes, insisting the venue only accommodates wheelchairs. Barber argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates accommodations for individuals with disabilities and asserted he had never encountered issues with his chair elsewhere. Despite his request to see the theater’s accommodation rules, which were allegedly unavailable, the situation escalated. As previews played, two police officers approached Barber and informed him that the theater wanted him removed.

In a video provided to Religion News Service (RNS), one police officer told Barber, “I’m gonna take you out.” Barber responded, “I cannot go out in good conscience,” as the recording depicted the officers escorting him out of the theater with canes in hand.

Ryan Noonan, a spokesperson for AMC Theatres, issued an apology on Wednesday, stating, “We sincerely apologize to Bishop Barber for how he was treated, and for the frustration and inconvenience brought to him, his family, and his guests.” AMC’s chairman and CEO, Adam Aron, reportedly contacted Barber and plans to meet with him next week.

Noonan emphasized that AMC welcomes people with disabilities and that their teams work hard to accommodate guests with unique needs. He stated, “Our theatre teams work hard to accommodate guests who have needs that fall outside of the normal course of business.”

Barber, while not disclosing potential legal action, highlighted the broader issue: the rights of individuals with disabilities to access services and goods. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates equal opportunities for people with disabilities to access businesses.

“I always look at things through the lens of, if it happened to me, it’s really not about me,” Barber expressed concern for others facing similar challenges. “I really am worried about how many other people feel that they can’t go out, they can’t go somewhere.”

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