Marion Barry, my political hero, is very worthy of praise because he energized generations of young people and in fact was a DC legend. I am sure, if you are not from the Washington DC, you only know him because of his often troubled past reported by the media. I would ask you to think about this for a moment. How could he have had a political career as long and been elected to so many positions unless he was doing great things for the people of the community he served. This is to include being elected Mayor four times.
I would venture to say that most do not know that Washington, DC was then and is now – the last plantation. The city was ruled by Southern Dixcrates in Congress until 1968 when President Johnson came up with what was called “Home Rule” at which time he installed a black face as Mayor after the riots. Although most were pleased by this, but as the system has done all around the world – Mayor Walter Washington was appointed and only a puppet. I am sure the thinking at the time was that they could control the black population of the city with their man in place. You must remember DC was 80% black and known as “Chocolate City.”
However, they never expected a man like Marion Barry to hold the office of mayor. Barry was elected and served as the second Mayor of the District of Columbia and elected a total of four times. A Democrat, he served three tenures on the City Council, representing as an at-large member for the largely African American Ward 8.
A sharecropper’s son from one of the most racist places on earth – Mississippi – he knew and understood the indignities of segregation and discrimination. In the 1960s, he was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, first as a member of the Nashville Student Movement sit-ins; then serving as the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Barry came to national prominence as mayor of the national capital, the first prominent civil-rights activist to become chief executive of a major American city; he gave the presidential nomination speech for Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
This is what I know to be true: He fostered equality and encouraged black empowerment. It was Barry who ordered that twenty-five percent of district contracts and government funds be directed to the African American business community. He founded a community help organization – PRIDE INC. He opened up political opportunities to blacks in the city for the first time in its history. He championed health and senior issues. However, his most profound legacy was his Summer Work Program where any young person residing in the city that wanted a job – GOT ONE!
His critics will always point to a moment that transformed his celebrity into international notoriety when he was videotaped smoking cocaine and arrested by FBI on drug charges. We now know they used a paid informant to lure him to a hotel room to accomplish this. I will say, and I am proud to say for his entire political career there have never been any indications of financial miss-management or him taking a dime from the government.
Let me ask, who amongst us is without sin. What is important to remember every prominent black leader was subjected to the Hoover devised COINTEL program. Therefore, I contend that this arrest was more about the plan to ensure he was removed by any means necessary because of his power. The arrest and subsequent trial precluded Barry from seeking re-election. He served six months in a federal prison. After his release, however, he WAS elected to the DC City Council in 1992 and ultimately returned to the mayoralty in 1994, serving from 1995 to 1999.
Despite his history of political and legal controversies, Barry was a popular and influential figure in the DC political scene – he was legendary. He helped many-many people and was relevant to the masses. The alternative weekly Washington City Paper nicknamed him “Mayor for life,” a designation that remained long after Barry left the mayoralty. The Washington Post has stated “to understand the District of Columbia, one must understand Marion Barry. Today and forever, we mourn the legend of this man who was larger than life. If he did not exist, he would have to be created, for sure, but Washington DC and its people would not be the same without his presence. Rest in Peace! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…