Posts Tagged ‘Jr.’

Mayor Marion Barry’s Headstone

After dominating his city’s political life for most of four decades, former D.C. Mayor Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. passed away on November 23, 2014 at the age of 78.  But for the first couple of years after his passing, there was no public memorial or monument, or even a private headstone at his gravesite in Historic Congressional Cemetery.  On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the cemetery to see the headstone that was finally installed at his gravesite.

The headstone was designed by Cora Masters Barry, Barry’s wife, and his late son, Christopher Barry, who subsequently died of a drug overdose without seeing the monument completed.  It was created by Andy Del Gallo, who has worked on a number of notable projects, perhaps most prominent of which was chiseling “‘I have a dream,’ words spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”, into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the spot where king stood when he delivered the famous speech.  But when it came to creating a suitable grave marker for the “Mayor for Life” of  D.C., the artistic process took some twists and turns.

A spokeswoman for Barry’s family, Raymone Bain, said the process of marking Barry’s grave took longer than expected in part because the original design had to be scrapped for not conforming to the cemetery’s requirements. His son Christopher’s death was another setback.  But finally, one day short of the two year anniversary of his death, a memorial headstone was installed.

The headstone Barry’s gravesite is located amid rows of headstones and obelisks, many of them inscribed with the names of people who lived and died in the 19th century.  Barry’s grave is located in an adjoining section on the same row of the graves as Leonard Matlovich and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The black stone memorial includes an image of bronze relief of Barry with the words “Mayor for life, beloved forever.”  It also is inscribed with a Bible verse, found at Mark 9:35, which reads, “If any man desires to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all.”  It is also inscribed with a statement about Barry by Maya Angelou, which reads, “Marion Barry changed America with his unmitigated gall to stand up in the ashes of where he had fallen and come back to win.”  Lastly, another inscription on the headstone, a quote by Barry himself, reads, “Most people don’t know me … the don’t know about all of the fighting I’ve done to manage a government that was progressive and more oriented to uplift the people rather than suppress them.  That’s what I want my legacy to be.  I was a freedom fighter, and a fighter for the economic livelihood of not only black people but all people.”

And that is indeed part of his legacy.  But it is not his complete legacy, because that is a complex amalgam of good and bad, of success and failure, of a public life and a private life that cannot be easily summed up.  The Washington Post, in an article published shortly after Barry’s headstone was unveiled, described his legacy as “civil rights activism and drug use, job creation and womanizing, part history lesson and part punchline — that defies simple labels.”

The creation of a private monument for Barry underscores how little the city has done to formally memorialize its most famous public figure. City officials have said they have plans for a statue of Barry, although it is not yet clear where it will be placed or when it will be created.  So aside from naming the city’s summer jobs program after Barry, who started it, it has yet to bestow Barry’s name on a school or other significant public structure, and there is still no public memorial or monument to the “Mayor for Life”.  And with the city’s changing demographics, deciding on an apt gesture toward Barry’s four terms as mayor – as well as his additional service as a council member and school board member, and his 1960s civil rights activism – grows more complicated and less likely as time goes on.

         

         
The two photos below show how Mayor Barry’s unmarked grave looked almost two years after his death.
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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Today marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, also commonly referred to as VE Day, which was a public holiday celebrated on May 8th in 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the United States and the Allied powers of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers, resulting in the end of the World War II in Europe. Beginning on that day, airplanes flying overhead meant celebration and the return of good times instead of fear and destruction.

During today’s bike ride I had the opportunity to stop and watch an unusual event to mark this anniversary. In celebration of the anniversary of VE Day, and to honor the heroes who fought in the War, as well as other members of our country’s “greatest generation” who contributed to the war effort on the home front by building the aircraft, tanks and ships that enabled the United States and its Allies to win the war, there was a flyover event above the national capitol city today. And the airplanes flying overheard today to celebrate the victorious end of the war were some of the same aircraft that flew 70 years ago.

The event was named “Arsenal of Democracy: World War II Victory Capitol Flyover,” and featured more than 50 World War II-era bombers, and fighters and trainers. Included in today’s flyover was a Boeing B-29 Superfortress nicknamed Fifi, the only known model still flying, which was the type of plane that dropped atomic bombs on Japan. Also among today’s airplanes were B-25 Mitchell bombers, which were adapted for the aircraft carrier Hornet for the Doolittle Raid over Japan. Dick Cole, who will turn 100 years old this fall, and who was co-pilot of the first bomber flying off the Hornet, was in attendance today. A TBM Avenger also participated today. It led a “missing man” formation, and was scheduled to be flown by Congressman Samuel Bruce “Sam” Graves, Jr., with Congressman Theodore Edward “Todd” Rokita riding along as a passenger.  The Avenger is the type of plane flown during the war by George H.W. Bush, who was the event’s honorary chairman.

Flying just 1,000 or so feet off the ground over the city’s highly restricted airspace where aircraft are otherwise prohibited, the planes flew south along the Potomac River flew down the Potomac River, turned left at The Lincoln Memorial and followed Independence Avenue along the south side of the National Mall and over The National World War II Memorial, where there was a large assemblage of World War II veterans gathered at the Memorial for a special ceremony honoring them.  The aircraft then banked right away from the U.S. Capitol Building and turned south again and flew along the Potomac River.  As they passed over the city the aircraft flew in over a dozen historically sequenced warbird formations that were designed to commemorate the War’s major battles, from Pearl Harbor through the final air assault on Japan, and concluding with a missing man formation to “Taps.”

It was a near perfect day for an air show, with very few clouds in the skies and clear visibility.  The flyovers were scheduled to start at 12:10pm, and started right on schedule.  By that time I had found a shady spot under some trees near the Lincoln Memorial, where I sat back with some blueberry ice tea and then watched the show.  It lasted approximately an hour, and then I had to head back to my office.  And it’s a good thing I was on a bike, because traffic downtown was nearly gridlocked from the thousands of people who came to see the show.

After the flyover was over, some of the airplanes flew to Dulles Airport where they will be on display tomorrow from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  I did not ride my bike out there to see them though because it’s about 60 miles, and my lunch breaks are not long enough for that far of a bike ride.

[Click on the thumbnails below to view the full size photos]
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The Howard Theater

The Howard Theater

The Howard Theatre, which is located at 620 T Street (MAP) in the U Street Corridor of northwest D.C.’s historic Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, is an entertainment venue with a storied history of highs and lows since opening over a century ago. And that is the reason I decided to make it my destination on this lunchtime outing.

The Howard originally had a capacity of more than 1,200, and featured orchestra and balcony seats and eight private boxes, with a lavishly decorated interior. And the theater’s original exterior matched its lavish interior, combining architectural elements of the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, and neoclassical styles. However, it lost its original ornate facade in 1941 when it was redone in the then-fashionable Streamline style. And it has been reduced in size over the years, currently being able to seat only half of its original capacity.

After its initial opening in 1910, The Howard became known for its variety of acts, including vaudeville performers, plays, and even circuses. However, despite its early success which lasted through the 1920’s, the Howard was forced to close down at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The building became a church for a short time, but was was able to reopen a couple of years later under new management, and this time became a venue devoted to discovering and hiring only the best in black talent. Though The Howard did not discover, Duke Ellington, a native Washingtonian, it was responsible for launching many other careers, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s. The astounding success of The Howard resonated throughout the East Coast as it energized the debuts of other black owned theaters, such as The Apollo in Harlem, The Uptown in Philadelphia, and The Royal in Baltimore, or, what was known at the time as The “Chitlin’ Circuit.”

Over the next couple of decades, many notable Jazz performers headlined at The Howard, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Nat King Cole, “Moms” Mabley, and hometown favorite Duke Ellington, bringing along with them an unparalleled level of fame and prestige to The Howard. Other types of performers were intermittently mixed in with these acts during this time. These acts included performers like Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello and Cesar Romero, as well as Pearl Bailey, who made her debut at the Howard.

Then in the 1950s and 60s, The Howard became a venue for rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, including such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye, to name but a few.

After the riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, coupled with societal changes brought about by desegregation, brought about unrest and disturbances which served to debilitate the area, drive out many locals, and eventually cause degradation of the once vibrant neighborhood. This made it difficult for The Howard to attract patrons, and in 1970 it was forced to close down once again.

Many attempts were made to revive The Howard in the years that followed. One attempt occurred in 1975, and attracted many stars and received significant publicity, both from the audience and performers. Acts such as Redd Foxx and Melba Moore were among those featured at the reopening. Later in the decade, Go-Go bands played the venue, including the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, another native Washingtonian, along with The Soul Searchers, also performed at The Howard. Despite this success, this run lasted only five years. The venue failed to regain its former glory or financial viability, and closed down once again in 1980.

Most recently the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was reopened after a 32-year hiatus and a $29 million multi-year renovation project. After being listed by the D.C. Preservation League as one of its Most Endangered Places in the city in 2002, groundbreaking for extensive renovations of the theater was held a couple of years later, and The Howard finally reopened in 2012 with a grand re-opening gala and benefit concert hosted by Bill Cosby and Wanda Sykes.

Today the reopened theater honors the glory of the past while ushering in an exciting future. Through the addition of state-of-the-art acoustics, and video and recording capabilities, The Howard is able to retain the intimate feel of its classic space for traditional audiences, while expanding to include new digital-age audiences as well. It is open six days a week, year-round, with dining amenities

HowardTheater03     HowardTheater02
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Awakening

The Awakening

On this bike ride I went to see “The Awakening.”  The Awakening is a 70-foot sculpture depicting the arousing of a bearded giant who is embedded in the earth.  The sculpture was created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., and owned by the Sculpture Foundation, a group that promotes public art.  It was part, along with 500 other pieces, of a city-wide public art exhibition in 1980.  After the exhibition it was subsequently loaned to the National Park Service for almost thirty years, who placed it on display at Hains Point in East Potomac Park in southwest D.C.   However, the sculpture was sold in 2008, and the new owner moved it to its current location at National Harbor in Prince Georges County, Maryland (MAP).

The Awakening consists of five separate cast aluminum pieces partially buried in the sand on the shores of the Potomac River.  Cumulatively they create the impression of a distressed giant emerging from the earth.  The left hand and right foot barely protrude, while the bent left leg and knee jut into the air.  The right arm and hand reach the farthest out of the ground.  The giant’s bearded face, with the mouth in mid-scream, appears to be concurrently angered and distressed as he struggles to free himself.

There is also a copy of the same statue just west of the Chesterfield Mall in West St Louis, Missouri, but that is a much longer bike ride from D.C.  So despite the move from Hains Point to National Harbor making the ride to see The Awakening a longer one than it used to be, it’s still the shorter of the two options, and was worth the effort.

TheAwakening01     TheAwakening03     TheAwakening04     Awakening01a

Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza, originally known as Western Plaza, is an open urban plaza built in 1980 in northwest D.C., located at 1455 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.  It is adjacent to Pershing Park, and just a few blocks from the White House.  The plaza was designed and developed by The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, as part of a plan to transform Pennsylvania Avenue into a ceremonial route connecting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

The western end of the plaza contains a raised reflecting pool with a large, animated circular fountain, while the eastern end contains an equestrian statue of Kazimierz Pułaski, a general in the Continental Army.  The center of the plaza contains a giant inlaid black granite and white marble map of the national capital city, as designed by Pierre L’Enfant, with grass panels representing the National Mall and the Ellipse, and bronze markers denoting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

It was renamed Freedom Plaza in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked on his “I Have a Dream” speech in the nearby Willard Hotel.  At the time the name was changed in 1988, a time capsule containing a Bible, a robe, and other relics of King’s was planted at the site.  I look forward to another bike ride there in 2088 when the time capsule will be reopened.

Freedom Plaza is a popular place for political protests and civic events.  In the spring of 1968, it was home to a shanty town known as “Resurrection City,” which was erected by protesters affiliated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign.”  In the wake of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, the encampment ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the inhabitants of the tent city were dispersed within the next couple of months.

Years later, beginning in October of 2011, it was also one the sites in D.C. which was temporarily home for a group which called itself Occupy Washington D.C., which was connected to the Occupy D.C. movement, encamped at McPherson Square, and to the Occupy Wall Street and broader Occupy movements that sprung up across the United States throughout the fall of that year.  However, by December, the movement’s presence at Freedom Plaza was nearing its end.  The two original organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation divorced themselves from the occupation, and the “exploding” rat population around the camps at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square was described by D.C. Department of Health director Mohammad Akhter as “no different than refugee camps.”

Freedom Plaza is one of those places in D.C. that many people have already been to but never really noticed.  Unique among the city’s plazas and parks, it is worth a long enough visit to appreciate its subtlety and details.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]