By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to Capital News
A commission assembled to come up with appropriate ways to honor the life and legacy of the late DC Mayor Marion S. Barry, Jr., and whittled a list of 30 recommendations to four.
On Monday, November 23, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the list at a ceremony in Southeast DC that included Barry’s widow Cora Masters Barry, relatives, friends and former colleagues of the mayor and DC Council member. The ceremony coincided with the first anniversary of Barry’s passing.
Following the announcement ceremony, Masters Barry and local businessman and Barry friend Phinis Jones hosted a reception for an assemblage of family members and those who counted Mayor Barry as friend, mentor, boss and exemplar.
The final recommendations were developed based on public input solicited during Bowser’s public engagement forums that took place over the summer.
“Sometime after Martin had a dream and before President Obama gave us hope, Marion Barry provided opportunity,” Bowser said of Barry, her mentor, as well as four-time mayor and three-time DC Council member. “And with these recommendations we will take the first step to rename Good Hope Road after Marion connecting him with Martin in the heart of Ward 8. I want to thank the commission for engaging the public and for going through a thoughtful process.”
“Mayor Barry’s contributions to this city are unparalleled, and I am confident that these recommendations will help us honor his legacy for generations to come.”
The recommendations include: renaming Frank W. Ballou Senior High School in Ward 8 where Barry served as the Councilmember until his passing; renaming Good Hope Road; commissioning a bust or statue in front of city hall, the John A. Wilson Building; and naming the new student center at the University of the District of Columbia after Barry.
Local activist Kemry Hughes, who met Barry as an 18-year-old and who worked for the Barry administration in several capacities, said he’s aware of the recommendations but hopes Barry will be recognized not just in four quadrants but in every ward in the city.
“The recommendations are good but I would hope the city looks at greater tributes for him,” said Hughes, who participated in the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Program in 1980 and served as Youth Mayor that same year. “He was very intelligent and everything was well thought out. One thing that amazed me was his memory. He familiarized himself with DC citizens, knew them well.”
“What really interested me was that he created the program that transformed my life and that he was a black man who was mayor of DC. That was powerful.”
While many who remember Barry focus on his latter years, Hughes said Barry represents much more.
“He jumpstarted the city economically, transformed Washington, DC into a major metropolis and made the city a power player nationally and on the international scene,” said Hughes.
Jeri Washington, a DC writer, activist and Ward 7 resident, is a longtime Barry admirer and one of his staunchest defenders. She said she’s furious at what she sees as an attempt to minimize Barry. She, like Hughes, wants to see Barry honored all across the District of Columbia.
“I’m not pleased with any of their selections. They’re keeping the tributes to Ward 8 when he was the architect of the building and resurgence of the District of Columbia,” she asserted. “We need to push hard for this, ensure that Mayor Barry is honored citywide. Folk want to marginalize and reduce the accomplishments, success and endearment of Marion Barry to a mere decimal. Boss Shepherd was one of the most notorious and corrupt politicians historically known to DC, yet his statue is front-and-center on Pennsylvania Avenue and a school is named after him but you think we should be knee-slap happy to name a darn-near street after Barry?”
Washington said new residents moving to the city need to be educated, and Washingtonians who’ve lived here longer may need to be reminded of the seminal role Barry played in building the middle class, bringing black people into city government and being instrumental in the growth of Prince George’s County. She remembers baking a cake last year when she heard of Barry’s death.
“While leveling flour, I pondered, ‘Who can measure the larger-than-life persona and tumultuous times of Marion S. Barry Jr.?’ There is no scale or cup to weigh with flawless accuracy the width, height, length, breadth, or depth of one whose scope, stretch, range, and reach span far beyond decades, demographics, generations and geography. A man, simultaneously heroic and humble, whose epic existence was flattened and pressed down as a flapjack on a hot, searing griddle only to rise again like a pan of dinner-roll dough, atop my kitchen stove.”
“Everything that encompasses our dearly departed warrior of civil rights, black power, social justice, economic parity, education and public servitude might correctly be viewed as premeditated, exacting, and strategically calculated.”
LaToya Foster, who served as Barry’s spokesman while he was represented Ward 8, praised Bowser for her diligence in ensuring that she suitably honors a man Foster said cast a giant shadow over the District during his more than 40 years of public service.
“Marion Barry sacrificed so much for this city – time with his family, time for himself – it makes my heart proud that Mayor Bowser is so committed that he’s honored and celebrated across the city,” said Foster, a former broadcast journalist who now is a Bowser spokesperson. “I knew the ‘Mayor For Life’ long before I worked for him. He was our leader, our family, our friend. We could talk about politics but he always enquired about us and our families.”
“He’s probably one of the most committed people I know. It was never about him, never about money. It was always about making a difference. I learned so much when he was writing his book. As he turned back the pages of his life, I understood that the vision for many of the things he did here began in Itta Beena, Mississippi, not when he was with the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee or with Pride but when he was a child picking cotton. He made sure that the youth had opportunities. It all started there.”