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Marion Barry's Life Takes Center Stage at D.C. Book Signing

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/10/2014, 7:30 p.m.
Marion Barry

After more than 40 years in public life, former mayor and Ward 8 Council member Marion S. Barry Jr., has finally written a book that tries to capture a full life that has taken him from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis to Washington, D.C.

To many black Washingtonians, Barry, 78, is Washington because in the 40 years since attaining Home Rule, his name has stood out as the one that’s synonymous with the varied political fortunes of the District of Columbia

“Mr. Barry’s story in many ways mirrors the paper’s,” said Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, who is co-hosting a book signing with MahoganyBooks and a community conversation with Barry on Monday, June 23. “He is among the most prominent people in Washington. He is Washington.”

“You have other people here who are identified with the city in other ways, but when you think of Marion Barry, you think of D.C. … it was good to have a leader like Marion Barry. He really understood the needs of the people and he wanted to make a change.”

The book, “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.,” (Strebor Books), is co-authored by Omar Tyree, a New York Times bestselling writer and author of more than 20 books. Tyree, a Howard University graduate, Philadelphia native and North Caroline resident, won the 2001 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction, and the 2006 Phyllis Wheatley Literary Award for Body of Work in Urban Fiction.

The book details Barry’s life from his early beginnings in the Mississippi cotton fields, his immersion into Civil Rights, his years as an activist, including serving as the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and eventually ascending to chief executive of the nation’s capital.

During those years, he associated and worked with many stalwarts of the Civil Rights struggle like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Rev. James Bevel, Stokely Carmichael and his longtime friend Lawrence Guyot.

Barry came to Washington, D.C. in the 1960s and along with Informer founder Calvin Rolark and other activists fought against police brutality, while advocating for jobs and increased opportunities for blacks in the city, especially young people.

His public life – four-time mayor, former chair of the school board and currently a proud city council member – has come to symbolize the power, promise and enigma of Washington, D.C.

When he ascended to power as mayor in 1978, Barry represented a new breed of black politician: brash, unapologetic, savvy, a perspective and outlook sharpened by his experience as a civil rights activist and warrior for justice. His ascension into power came on the heels of the Black Power movement and seemed in many eyes to be the culmination of a decades-long effort by blacks to attain political, social and economic parity.

By the time he began serving his second term, Barry had brought significant numbers of blacks into city government, laid the groundwork for development of the black middle and upper class, mandated that 35 percent of all city building contracts go to minority contractors and presided over a multi-billion dollar apparatus that employed more than 30,000 employees.