Like his namesake (Homer, author of The Odyssey and The Iliad), Rev. Homer A. Barbee is a blind poet and storyteller who keeps the past alive through songs and stories. Rev. Barbee is the down-home Southern preacher transplanted to the North. Although he hails from Chicago, Barbee has not lost touch with his southern roots. Barbee preaches his sermon about the Founder in the college auditorium with all the fervor and flair of the traditional black preacher addressing his congregation from the pulpit of a small Southern church where the service was often followed by a barbecue: the congregation, having been spiritually nourished by the Word, continued their fellowship by enjoying the food lovingly prepared by the church ladies.
Barbee's blindness is significant for several reasons. Unlike Bledsoe, whose primary concern is ensuring that the evening's performance is appropriate for his distinguished white guests, Barbee is totally unaware of the whites in the audience and directs his message to the black congregation, revealing that he was not always blind. In his mind's eye, he still sees the college the way it was in the "old days" when his fiery sermons would evoke a passionate response from his congregation in the form of shouts and "amens." But here, the only response to his sermon is a stiffly polite silence from a new generation of young, educated blacks, taught that singing and shouting in church is uncivilized and undignified. An old woman, overwhelmed by emotion, spontaneously responds to the sermon, but quickly becomes silent, realizing that her outburst is out of place in this modern, progressive (and seemingly enlightened) congregation.
Barbee's physical blindness also symbolizes blacks who view religion as an escape from reality, choosing to remain blind to issues facing them in the real world. It also symbolizes those who, like Bledsoe, have become spiritually blind, counting on their god of material wealth and power to save them.
Barbee represents the type of Southern black preacher the students have been taught to despise by people like Dr. Bledsoe. Ironically, he commands their respect because he is from Chicago.