Mayor for Life Permanently Memorialized

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO
/ (Photo by Rob Roberts) /

Thousands of District of Columbia residents braved windy weather on March 3 to see the unveiling of a statue of the late Marion S. Barry. The bronze statute is located in the northeastern section of the John A. Wilson Building, the District’s city hall. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) was a driving force in seeing the statue become a reality.

The statue of the late Marion S. Barry is in the northeastern section of the John A. Wilson Building. (Photo by Rob Roberts).

“Sometime after Martin had a dream and before President Obama gave us hope, Marion Barry provided opportunity,” the mayor said. “Mr. Barry was a larger than life figure – a man who could both lead the protest as an activist and engage the protest as mayor. He gave hope to those who had lost it and created access to the middle class for Washingtonians who, for years, had been locked out of power and prosperity. With this statue, we are preserving a tremendous part of Washington, D.C. history and honoring our mayor for life, Marion Barry.”

Barry served four terms as the District’s mayor from 1979-1991 and from 1995-1999.

Before he was mayor he served on the D.C. School Board, becoming its president at one point, from 1971-1974 and was elected to the first D.C. Council as an at-large member in 1974.

After returning from a six-month prison term for drug possession in 1992, Barry ran for the Ward 8 D.C. Council position and was elected overwhelming that year and served in the District’s legislative body until he was re-elected mayor in 1995.

Barry died on Nov. 23, 2014.

The ceremony was held in front of the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. with the overflow on Freedom Plaza. The master of ceremonies was popular radio disc jockey Donnie Simpson. The “Star Spangled Banner” was sung by vocalist John Lesane. Bishop Glen A. Staples of the Temple of Praise church delivered the invocation. The Eastern High Marching Band performed.

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman; Ben’s Chili Bowl co-founder Virginia Ali;  former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown; former council members Michael Brown, Harold Brazile and Harry Thomas Jr.; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the former president of Bennett College for Women; and D.C. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairwoman Marie Johns were among the notable guests in the audience. Michael A. Rogers, chairman of The Commission to Commemorate and Recognize the Honorable Marion Barry Jr., said while members of the commission had different ideas on how to honor the late former mayor, one idea resonated with all.

“There was a pretty common sentiment that there should be a statue on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Rogers said. The commission also decided to honor Barry with the re-naming of Ballou High School, a major street, and the new University of the District of Columbia student center.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told the gathering that Barry was an uncommon political actor. “I am here to deliver a rare tribute to a politician who people in the District not merely voted for but whom they loved,” Norton said. “The people of the District identified with him and his struggles.”

Norton said the statue is a “loving memorial from his city.”

Barry’s wife, Cora, was greeted with long applause and a standing ovation. She said her husband was relentless in reaching his goals and encouraged others to follow that legacy. “He said never stop, never quit,” she said. “If you get knocked down, you need to get back all the way up.”

The men of Alpha Phi Alpha, the college fraternity that Barry joined, sang while surrounding the statue. Former D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander told the {AFRO} that a statue to Barry is fitting. “I am here to honor a D.C. legend. He served four terms as mayor and I don’t see anyone doing that in my lifetime,” she said.