Posts Tagged ‘Marion Barry’

Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

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Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

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

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Statue of Mayor Marion Barry

This past weekend a statue was unveiled in front of the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor’s office and the D.C. Council, and is located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), just blocks from the White House.  The statue is of a man who to some people was a “living legend” who advocated for the city’s poor.  To others he was a controversial figure, best remembered for being re-elected mayor despite serving a prison sentence for possession of crack cocaine.  The statue is a memorial to former D.C. “Mayor For Life” Marion Barry, who died at age 78 in 2014, and is buried here in the city in Historic Congressional Cemetery.

The 8-foot-tall, bronze statue of Barry was created by Maryland-based sculptor Steven Weitzman.  The statue was commissioned by the Executive Office of the Mayor in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Marion Barry Commission, with its estimated cost of approximately $300,000.00 paid for by a combination of both taxpayer and private funds.  It is the first permanent public honor the District has given Barry, and one of only three full-body statues in the city of African Americans.

Barry’s supporters contend that Barry embodied the spirit of Washington and point to his: work in the 1960’s as a civil rights activist; serving as the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; being elected to the D.C. Board of Education; being elected to a seat on D.C.’s first elected city council; serving for a total of 16 years on the city council, the last 13 of which after he was shot by radical Hanafi muslims, from a breakaway sect of the Nation of Islam, when they overran the District Building in March of 1977; becoming the first prominent civil rights activist to become chief executive of a major American city, serving four terms as the city’s mayor, and; a number of notable achievements such as the founding the city’s summer jobs program which is now named after him.

But Barry’s detractors say he was also very controversial, and continued to be plagued throughout his life and career by: various legal problems such as failing to file tax returns and pay taxes; a variety of traffic violations including drunk driving and, at one point, accumulating over $2,800.00 in unpaid tickets for speeding and parking violations; conflicts of interest while in office, including personally benefiting from awarding a city contract to his then girlfriend;  being caught on videotape being arrested and subsequently convicted of smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room with an ex-model and propositioning her for sex, and; making racist remarks about Asian Americans at a party celebrating his primary victory during the election when he was elected to his last term on the city council, on which he served until his death.

Regardless of personal opinions about him, Barry’s legacy might best be summarized by the campaign slogan he adopted when he emerged from prison and dove straight back into politics: “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”

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

Black Rock Star Superhero

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood in northwest D.C., I saw a mural on the side of a building at the corner of 14th and Randolph Streets (MAP).  So I rode over to get a closer look.  The eclectic nature of the things in the mural indicated to me that there might be a good story behind it.  So later I researched the mural.  And I was right about there being a story behind it.  The mural has undergone several distinct phases to become what I saw today.

The mural was originally entitled Washington Pizza, and was located on the side of the Washington Pizza restaurant.  It was created by Alicia Cosnahan, also know professionally as Decoy, a local artist who creates a lot of local graffiti and murals.  In its original incarnation it showed a family eating, what looks like a couple of colorized local rowhouses, and an another person eating something.  It was topped off by a scrawled and odd-looking no parking warning.

For the 2014 release of “Mayor of D.C. Hip Hop” Head-Roc‘s album of the same name (which, by the way, contained a song entitled “Mayor for Life” in tribute to former four-term D.C. mayor, Marion Barry), local muralist Pahel Brunis modified the mural, which was then retitled “Black Rock Star Super Hero.” Some graffiti text reading Head Roc covered the family, and a likeness of Head-Roc, covered up the cool pizza-eating person.  Thankfully, he also covered up the scrawled “Washington Pizza parking only!”

Later that same year, on the morning of November 23, “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry died.  That same afternoon, Head-Roc, along with other local rappers, performed an impromptu musical tribute to Barry at the vacant lot in front of the mural.  As the music played Pahel Brunis returned and once again modified the mural, this time with a tribute to Barry.  It wasn’t planned.  He just grabbed what supplies he had at home and showed up.  Three hours later he had painted a large portrait of Barry on top of the rowhouses.  And that’s how the mural looks today, at least for now.

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The USS Barry Museum Ship

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s southwest waterfront, and I highly recommend that you do, you should proceed east on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail until you get to the waterfront at The Washington Navy Yard.  Located on the north shore of the Anacostia River just east of Nationals Park, you will find the Navy’s oldest shore establishment. Known as “The Yard,” it is the former shipyard and ordnance plant of the U.S. Navy in southeast D.C., and currently serves as a ceremonial and administrative center.

On the waterfront at The Yard you will find the USS Barry (DD-933) moored at Pier 2 (MAP).  She was one of the Navy’s eighteen Forrest Sherman-class destroyers when commissioned in 1954.  She supported the 1958 Marine and Army airborne unit landing in Beirut, Lebanon.  And in 1962, she participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis as a member of the task force that quarantined Cuba in response to evidence that Soviet missiles had been installed on the island.   She spent most of her career in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean, but also served in the Vietnam War, for which she was credited with destroying over 1,000 enemy structures and earned two battle stars. During the final portion of her active career, in the 1970’s, she was home ported in Athens, Greece as part of the Navy’s forward deployment program.

Decommissioned in 1982, she began her new career as a museum ship and permanent public display two years later when she was brought to The Yard.  She currently lies moored in the Anacostia River and serves as a distinctive attraction for visitors to the historic area, with some of her internal areas opened for visitors to tour. Some of the museum ship’s areas open for viewing include the machine repair shop, the crew berthing room, the ward room, the mess deck, the bridge, and the combat information center.  She is also used for training and shipboard familiarization, and as a ceremonial platform.

Many local residents think the ship was named after “D.C. Mayor-For-Life” Marion Barry, but she was actually named for the illustrious Revolutionary War naval hero, Commodore John Barry.  An officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy, John Barry is widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” sharing that moniker with John Paul Jones.  As most naval historians note, Barry can be classed on a par with Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy.   He had great regard for his crew and their well being and always made sure they were properly provided for while at sea.  Barry was also a religious man, and began each day at sea with a reading from the Bible.

I have been to the waterfront at The Yard several times, and each time I practically had the place to myself.  It is one of D.C.’s true hidden gems.  And although I know there are some people who’d prefer to keep it that way, this is another place worth knowing about and visiting that is just too good not to share.

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UPDATE:  Unfortunately, after 34 years in D.C., the USS Barry is no longer at the Washington Navy Yard.  Unable to move under its own power since the ship’s internal systems were in layup and out of commission, on May 7, 2016, tugboats towed the ship to Philadelphia, where it was dismantled and sold for scrap.