Honoring Black History: The Life and Works of Marion Barry


Former Mayor Marian Barry is arguably the most beloved Mayor of Washington DC. Born in Mississippi but raised in Memphis, he understood that racial injustices were a major factor amongst all people of color.

His journey started when he got involved in the African-American Civil Rights Movement as the first member of the Nashville Student Movement sit-ins and then becoming the first Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC). As the SNCC Chair, he led demonstrations and protest against racial segregation and discrimination. His attempts of eliminating the racial segregation moved forward but radically slower than he hoped.

In 1965, he moved to Washington, DC to open a local chapter of SNCC. His main focus in DC in his early years was to coordinate and have successful peaceful street demonstrations as well as boycotting bus fare increases. He advocated for round-the-clock rides for people that boycotted that needed them.

During the aftermath of Dr. King’s assignation, Barry became a board member of the city’s Economic Development Committee where he secured federal funds for struggling Black-owned businesses. He also organized free food distribution for disenfranchised residents of the aftermath of riots.

His commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and the betterment became apparent when he won as the at-large member of the school board and then appointed as President. As President for the next 2 years he lobbied for a larger budget for education along with pay increases for educators. With his newfound success he then ran and won an at-large seat on city council. Skies were the limit at this point.

Marion Barry’s career at this point was headed in the direction of success as an activist and legislator. The people of Washington, DC see him as their local political hero, so running for the second Mayor of the Nation’s Capital was a no brainer. His first couple of terms were rocky as he was plagued with high deficits, financial malfeasance of associates, and insufficient oversight of contracts to his campaign contributors. Along with these political issues, Marion Barry had also been tagged with having a drug and alcohol abuse problem. Things began to crumble fast! With the Crack epidemic and drug wars on the rise at this point, DC became known as the Murder Capitol under Barry’s watch. He was caught and convicted of smoking crack in the eye of the storm.

“He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.\”

Marion Barry rebounded from his trial and tribulations to run and win a seat on city council of Ward 8. Two years later he ran for Mayor again under the “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.\” slogan and won. Still troubled by mishaps like failure to pay taxes, stalking an ex-girlfriend, and countless traffic run-ins with Capitol police, it was obvious that the people of Washington, DC had never given up on him. He still was the hometown favorite although DC wasn’t his hometown. Barry lived a life of ups and downs and peaks and valleys but through it all, he was laid to rest peacefully on December 06, 2014 with an overwhelming appreciation for his hard work and dedication to the natives of Washington, DC.


{{PD-author}} / dbking / Own work / David King/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

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