Marion Barry Jr., 78


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Marion Barry Jr., a civil rights activist and later three term mayor of Washington D.C., died on Nov. 23 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 78.

He was born on March 6, 1936, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His parents, Marion Barry and Mattie Barry, were sharecroppers; the family lived in relative poverty. When Barry was eight years old, his mother took the family to live in Memphis, Tennessee.

He graduated from high school in Memphis and in 1958 earned his bachelor’s degree at Le Moyne College, a small Black college in the city. He received a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Le Moyne College in Nashville in 1960.

Barry then completed three years of a doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Tennessee, but his studies were abandoned as he became immersed in the civil rights struggle.

In 1960, at age of 24, he became the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He worked with SNCC in the South until 1965 when he moved to Washington, D.C. to open that’s city’s SNCC office.

Barry soon became a well-known local activist, leading civil rights demonstrations. In 1967, Barry co-founded with Mary Treadwell (who would become his first wife) Pride, Inc., a federally funded job-training program for unemployed Black men.

He began his political career in 1971 when he was elected to the District of Columbia’s first independent school board. He served as president of the board until 1974. When Washington, D.C. was granted home rule –allowing its citizens could vote for major municipal offices such as the mayor and city council – Barry was elected to the first city council.

He developed a populist style of local politics that energized poor and working class voters particularly in the eastern section of the city and was thus easily re-elected in 1976. With a significant base of political support behind him, Barry at 42 was elected to the office of mayor in 1978.

He served three consecutive terms, until 1990.

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