Thousands gathered Saturday in D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue wore green to make the street a little blacker.
Residents and city officials, dressed in the campaign colors of the late Marion Barry Jr., converged in front of the John H. Wilson Building for the formal dedication and unveiling of a commemorative statue of the “Mayor for Life.”
Barry is one of three African-Americans with a full-body statue erected and standing in the District and the first locally elected official to be honored with a statue, according to the mayor’s office.
The eight-foot bronze statue honors Barry’s longtime public service to District residents. After his work as a civil rights leader, he served four terms as mayor as well as 16 years on the D.C. Council prior to his death in November 2014.
“Marion Barry was a strong, brilliant, brave, courageous and free Black man,” said widow Cora Masters Barry, fighting back tears as she spoke about Barry and their late son, Marion Christopher Barry. “Despite his troubles, despite his difficulties, the underpinning of his total life was that [he] always served the people.”
The statue will permanently rest outside of the epicenter of D.C. government and on what Masters Barry calls “America’s main street,” in the form of a waving and smiling memorial.
Steven Weitzman designed the sculpture based on hours of studying photographs, video and conversations with Barry’s family and associates.
“Among the attributes that I most respected and admired about [Barry] was his courage and his tenacity,” Masters Barry said. “For every young, new, and next leader of color around this nation, let this statue be a source of strength and encouragement to never stop, to never quit, to keep going, be who you are, and let nothing stop you.”
Bowser credited Barry for championing home rule, revitalizing neighborhoods such as Chinatown and the H Street corridor, creating programs that helped young people including the still active Summer Youth Employment Program and expanding the city’s middle class of the city’s then majority-Black population.
In 2015, Bowser renamed a summer jobs program created by Barry in his honor, and a gravestone monument was unveiled in 2016 at Congressional Cemetery in Southeast.
“Sometime after Martin had a dream and before President Obama gave us hope, Marion Barry provided opportunity,” Bowser said. “Mr. Barry was a larger than life figure — a man who could both lead the protest as an activist and engage the protest as mayor.
“He gave hope to those who had lost it and created access to the middle class for Washingtonians who, for years, had been locked out of power and prosperity, she said . “With this statue, we are preserving a tremendous part of Washington, D.C.’s history, and honoring our ‘Mayor for Life,’ Marion Barry.
Many present and past city leaders attended the ceremony, including all 13 members of the city council and D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
While city officials and dignitaries shared their thoughts on Barry, residents also reflected on the beloved icon.
“I had to come see the statue of the mayor for life — it’s a moment long overdue,” said Ward 5 resident Nikia Butler, 41, of the official honoring of Barry.
She said she took time to explain Barry’s impact on the city to her two daughters, ages 9 and 11, on the Metro ride to the ceremony.
“I don’t know if they understand now,” Butler said.
She said she hopes the statue encourages those who see it to research Barry and learn of his contributions to the city.
Ward 8 resident Mariama Mansaray, 28, said Barry “gave young Black people the courage to believe they could be somebody even if they came from the projects or were on Section 8.”