Washington D.C., indeed the entire Black community of this country, lost an enormous historical civil rights figure when former Washington D.C. Mayor passed away unexpectedly last week. The AFRO has had a long history of reporting on the many facets of Marion Barry’s life. During the 1960s we wrote about his efforts as a then emerging civil rights leader for the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee who was staging sit-ins in the South at segregated lunch counters, movie theaters and large parts of American society. While it can be infuriating to recall that it wasn’t that long ago that Blacks were openly—and legally—prevented from entering certain businesses, Barry was at the forefront of the movement to end a kind of racism that was so embedded in society that its very pervasiveness made it unremarkable.
After nearly two decades of civil rights work Barry was elected mayor of Washington, D.C. in 1978. He became legendary for his summer jobs programs and awarding business to minority contractors as well as putting minorities and women into government positions that had previously gone only to Whites. He would go on to be re-elected three times before going to jail for six months for cocaine possession after being caught in a Federal drug sting.
While this would be the end of most politicians, Barry nevertheless managed to come back: first as a council member of D.C.’s Ward 8 and then as mayor again in 1994. And therein lay Barry’s genius: No matter the odds against him, he always got back up and continued moving forward. During his ’94 campaign he told reporters: “Who can better help our city recover than someone who himself has gone through recovery?”
Marion Barry was clearly a man with problems. Those problems led the AFRO to withhold endorsing him in the Democratic primary in 1994 (The AFRO endorsed him in the general election). And while many of those problems played out in public, especially in his later years, Barry managed–somehow– to just keep on going.
In that spirit, we leave you with a Barry quote that you are unlikely to see as cited as some of his more colorful sayings: “If the White people are stupid enough not to listen to the legitimate demands of Colored people then I think they have to suffer the consequences of these things and maybe it might wake them up.” Marion Barry, as quoted in the AFRO, in 1966.