Posts Tagged ‘Marion Shepilov Barry’

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]

Advertisements

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.
MarionBarry02     MarionBarry03
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]