How does the District remember Marion Barry, its most successful—and most notorious—politician? The answer, if the Barry Commemorative Commission gets its way, is with a whole lot of stuff.
Last night, the commission released their draft proposals and heard reactions from the public at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, founded by Barry widow Cora Masters Barry. The commission, organized by Muriel Bowser in February, plans to make its final recommendations by the end of the year.
Barry’s son, Marion C. Barry, made the case for a maximum approach to remembering his father’s legacy. The District is covered with honors for America’s founding fathers—so why skimp on memorials for a more recent founding father?
“I see Marion Barry as being the founding father of Chocolate City,” Barry said.
The commission proposed four memorials for Barry: naming the University of the District of Columbia’s student center, Ballou Senior High School, and Oxon Run Park after the ex-mayor, and commissioning a statue of him to be placed someone in or around the Wilson Building.
Naming a high school after Barry was once considered comical enough to be a gag in Jon Lovitz‘s High School High, but most of the crowd supported the idea.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary Cuthbert fretted that, if the city didn’t rename Ballou, a charter school would use Barry’s name instead. A woman who identified herself as a Ballou staffer said that she didn’t just support renaming the school—she would change her own name, if that’s what it took to honor Barry.
Crowd suggestions ranged from starting a scholarship fund to renaming U St. NW’s Reeves Center after the late mayor-for-life. Bowser, represented on the commission by advisor Beverly Perry, appeared briefly but didn’t throw her support behind any of the ideas.
The meeting doubled as a swap meet for Barry anecdotes. One man remembered Barry pulling up to his barbeque, asking the man to slip him a plate of ribs, and driving away.
Still, the commission’s recommendations—especially the statue at the Wilson Building—met with approval from the crowd. Developer Herb Miller, one of the commission members, said the District has enough enough statues of “dead generals on horses.”
Ex-offender activist Al-Malik Farrakhan announced his own plans to hold a Barry memorial event every December, then endorsed the proposal for a Barry statue.
“We’ve got statues of people that don’t even like black folks,” Farrakhan said.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery