Thousands of District residents from all walks of life as well as members of Congress and leaders of national organizations took time out of their lives to thank Marion Barry for his nearly 40 years of public service to the nation’s capital in three distinct events from Dec. 4-8.
Barry, who died at the United Medical Center on Nov. 23 at the age of 78, was remembered as a strong champion of Black businesses, senior citizens and young people. Residents had the chance to celebrate his life at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest on Dec. 4, the Temple of Praise church on Dec. 5 and at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Dec. 6.
“There has been no one like him in the District of Columbia and there will likely be no one like him ever again,” Jim Vance, an anchorman for News Channel 4 said on a special edition of “Reporter’s Roundtable” on Dec. 7.
Barry’s body was in a casket with a bouquet of red roses and a kente cloth draped over it in the first floor foyer of the Wilson Building on Dec. 4.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate, was joined by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D),) present and former D.C. Council members, U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.), and members of the Barry family, at a ceremony at the Wilson Building. After the ceremony, people were allowed in the building to greet council members who were available and stand in front of the casket to reflect on Barry in a personal manner.
“I am here to share a special moment with my friend,” Willie Jolley, one of the nation’s leading motivational speakers, said. “Marion Barry stood for courage and tenacity. That’s what made him a superstar.”
Outside the Wilson Building, vendors were selling t-shirts, buttons and posters with Barry’s likeness on them. Floyd Myers Sr., a retired police officer and real estate entrepreneur, said that Barry would not have had any problem with what the vendors were doing.
“Barry was all about helping Black people get into business,” Myers said. “He was responsible for shaping the District of Columbia for what it is now. I use to guard him as a member of his police detail and he taught me a lot of things about how this city runs and how to do business in this city.”
Barry’s son, Christopher, could be seen shaking hands with people visiting his father’s casket. His stepsister, Lalanya Masters, said that Barry’s family was pleased with the outpouring of affection for the late mayor and council member.
“This is a wonderful reflection on him,” she said. “It is poetic justice that my stepfather passed away just when things are taking place in Ferguson, and the death of Eric Garner.”
On Dec. 5, Barry’s casket was put into a car and driven through Ward 6 via Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. to Ward 8. D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (D) and her staff joined thousands of people standing along the street to observe the car carrying Barry and she blew a kiss to it.
When Barry’s car got on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, S.E., people stepped from the sidewalk to the street to touch it. Cora Masters Barry and Christopher got out of the car to greet the residents.
Longtime Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Mary Cuthbert remembered her friend.
“Marion Barry called this meeting and we are in order,” Cuthbert, who is the chairman of her commission, said. “There are two items on the agenda, to say thank you and farewell.”
During the eulogy, Temple of Praise Bishop Glen Staples said Barry was “one of the nation’s greatest civil rights leaders.”
On Dec. 6, thousands of people filled the convention center to listen to speakers praise the late mayor. Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan thanked Barry for his support of the successful 1995 Million Man March that took place on the National Mall.
“The Million Man March could never have happened in any other city at any other time than in Washington, D.C. at the time of Marion Barry,” said Farrakhan.
There were video tributes by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and civil rights leader Julian Bond. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Gray made remarks and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, in his speech, said that Barry gave him his first real job.
“And every time I would see him, he would remind me of that,” Baker said.
Gray was joined, as he spoke, by former D.C. Mayors Sharon Pratt and Anthony Williams and Newark, N.J. Mayor Ras Baraka. Former D.C. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Mendelson spoke along with Bowser and former D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis on what Barry meant to the city and the council.
R. Donahue Peebles, who is considered one of the wealthiest African Americans in the country, said that Barry made the District “the mecca of African-American entrepreneurship.”
“Barry created the Black middle class in Washington,” Peebles said. “If it were not for him, I would not be the nation’s largest African-American real estate developer.”
“People would do terrible things to him and he would forgive,” Cora Barry said. “He was not fake. He had a pure heart.”
Social media provided another avenue for grievers to express their gratitude for Barry. The late mayor’s twitter account was transformed into a forum for remembrance.Barry’s public relations team constantly tweeted about various memorial services, retweeting reflective posts and quotes along with the coverage of his official funeral service.
After the five-hour memorial, a processional took Barry’s body to the Congressional Cemetery, where he is interned.
Auburn Mann contributed to this article