Marion Barry, SNCC’s first Chairman, died November 23, 2014 in Washington, DC, age 78. In April 1960 he attended SNCC's founding conference in Raleigh, NC , representing the Nashville Student Movement, and was elected chair of the new organization by the delegates. He was a former 4-term Mayor of Washington, DC, and 4-term member of the Washington, DC City Council.
Marion Barry Jr. was born on March 6, 1936 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His father worked as a sharecropper and passed away when he was only four. His mom moved the family to Memphis, remarried and raised nine children. As a young boy, Barry took on multiple jobs to assist his family, including picking cotton.
Barry earned a bachelor’s degree in 1958 from Le Moyne College and in 1960 received his master’s degree in organic chemistry from Fisk University, where he became active in the Nashville Student Movement. His passion for the Civil Rights Movement kept him from completing his doctorate. Instead, Barry’s efforts went into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); he was elected as its first national chairman, in April 1960. That summer he represented SNCC before the Platform Committee at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. and the Republican National Convention in Chicago. In 1961, Barry helped develop an organizing project in McComb, Mississippi. The project was both a voter registration and a direct action endeavor. In 1964-65 Barry headed up SNCC’s New York City office.
SNCC Staff singing in Raymond Street, Atlanta SNCC office, 1963, (From left): Mike Sayer, Macarthur Cotton, Jamees Forman, Marion Barry (in trench coat), Lester McKinney, Mike Thelwell, Lawrence Guyot, Judy Richardson, John Lewis, Jean Wheeler
Later in 1965, he moved to Washington, D.C. to launch a local chapter of SNCC. As Director of the DC SNCC office, Barry worked on issues such as Home Rule, bus fares, jobs, health services, federal programs, and education.
In 1967, Barry co-founded Pride, Inc., a jobs program for unemployed black men. Next, Barry began his career in politics by winning a seat on the D.C. School Board in 1972; two years later, he was elected to city council. When Hanafi Muslims took over the District Building in 1977, Barry was shot during the incident. His survival seemed to boost his "unstoppable" image.
After just three years on the city council, the democrat ran for mayor and won in 1978. He was reelected two more times. On January 18, 1990, the mayor was caught on tape by the FBI using crack cocaine. He was sentenced to six months for possession. Yet the scandal didn’t keep Barry from running for city council after prison. Barry not only won in 1992, but two years later he was reelected mayor. Barry retired from politics in 1998 but returned in 2002 with an unsuccessful city council bid. He ran again for city council in 2004 on behalf of Ward 8, one of the city’s poorest areas…and won.
In 2012, he was elected for a third straight city council term. His story may become an HBO biopic with Eddie Murphy playing Barry and Spike Lee as the director. In June 2014, Barry published his autobiography, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. In a New York Times interview after its release, he said, “I serve as an inspiration for those who are going through all kinds of things.”
Marion S. Barry Jr. died on November 23, 2014 at the age of 78 in Washington D.C.