Dozens of supporters stood marveling at models unveiled Monday, March 6 that will showcase the late Marion Barry Jr. next year at the John H. Wilson Building in Northwest.
District leaders, including Ward 8 Councilman Trayon White, fittingly paid tribute to Barry on the anniversary of his birth, sharing memories about how the former “Mayor for Life” and city councilman influenced their lives. Had Barry lived, he would have been 81.
“We would always disagree, contrary to popular opinion. He would always cut me off. I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to say my piece and you’re going to say your piece.’ It was all in love,” White said.
“When he finally wanted to unveil certain things, he would always give me a call at 6:16, 6:30 in the morning. He talked about how God impacted his life. He was an inspiration to so many. We need to keep that legacy going along.”
Barry also influenced residents with his popular summer jobs for youth programs and hired Blacks in management positions in the city government dominated for decades by whites.
“He was a great man. He will always be the greatest like the boxer Muhammad Ali,” said native Washingtonian Susan Woodard of Southeast, who brought her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 7. “He not only fought for us in the District of Columbia, he also fought and did a lot for other people in other states.”
The bust, statue and poster of Barry got showcased publicly for the first time at the Wilson Building, home of D.C. government and a place where his widow Cora Masters Barry said he spent many hours.
Barry praised Mayor Muriel Bowser in keeping her husband’s legacy alive not only with the statues, but also the installation of a memorial and headstone at his gravesite Nov. 23 at Congressional Cemetery in Southeast. The day marked the second anniversary of Barry’s death.
“From the night [Marion Barry] died, she was with us and has been there all the way,” Barry said. “Always remember that when you tell your friends, there’s a friend Marion Barry left behind — one of them is Mayor Muriel Bowser.”
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities will oversee the project scheduled to take one year in the making with step one being achieved on Monday — showing the bust, statue and poster that give a snapshot of Barry’s family and his 40 years in District politics and activism.
Arthur Espinoza, executive director of the DC arts commission, said the models are proposed concepts from two artists — Steven Weiztman and Vinnie Bagwell — and will continue to be designed.
The next step: choosing a site on which to hoist a life-sized bronze statue of Barry and transfer a poster into a medallion.
“Our goal is to gather one year from today dedicating both of these artworks,” Espinoza said. “I hope you’ll make plans on your calendar to join us. It’s a very memorable day, yet there is much more work to do.”
Barry, born to sharecroppers in Itta Bena, Mississippi, pushed hard to ensure he got a quality education. He graduated in 1958 with a degree in chemistry from LeMoyne College in Memphis. Two years later in 1960, he received a master’s degree in chemistry from Fisk University in Nashville.
That same year, he helped create the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which held demonstrations, boycotts and sit-ins to protest racial injustice. Barry eventually became its national chairman.
He moved to the District in 1965 to coordinate SNCC activities and six years later, he got elected to the school board. He won the election for City Council in 1976 and became the city’s second-elected mayor two years later, serving for three terms until 1990 and again as the fourth mayor from 1995 to 1999.
Securing tenures on the City Council, he interrupted his 1998 retirement from politics to run for the Ward 8 council seat in 2004 which he held until his death on Nov. 23, 2014.
One idea for Barry’s statue will be a quote from his autography, “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr.”
In his own words, it says, “Most people don’t know me … They 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.”