Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. Biography

Claim to Fame: Former mayor of Washington, D.C.
DOB: 1936
Date of Death: 2014
Diabetes Type: 2

Marion Barry served as Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1979 to 1991. He was forced to leave office during his third term as a result of his arrest and conviction on drug charges, but afterward he was again elected to the D.C. council and ultimately to the mayoralty, serving a fourth term from 1995 to 1999.

Barry was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi. During this time African Americans were subject to racism and discrimination. The first time Barry noticed racism, he was walking to school (as he was forced to do) and realized that all the white children were able to ride the school bus. Barry's first fight for civil rights happened when the newspaper company he worked for would not let the black paperboys go on a trip to New Orleans despite the fact that the boys completed the trip's required newspaper quota. Barry decided to boycott his paper route until they allowed the boys to go on the trip. He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and graduated from LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne-Owen College) in 1958 and was and active participant of the NAACP chapter at LeMoyne and eventually became the program's president. Due to his civil rights activism he received the nickname "Shep" because of the similaraities he shared with soviet politician Dmitri Shepilov. Barry also graduated with a Masters of organic chemistry from Fisk University in 1960.

Afterward, he joined the American civil rights movement during a movement to eliminate racial segregation of bus passengers, and was elected the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He abandoned his doctoral chemistry studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee for his new duties. During his time leading SNCC, Barry heavily lobbied against racial segregation and discrimination. In 1965, Barry moved to Washington, D.C. to open a local chapter of SNCC where he was heavily involved in coordinating peaceful street demonstrations. He served on the first city school board to implement school board elections, in 1971, and served as Board president during his tenure. He was elected a member of Washington's first elected city council in 1974, and while serving as a council member, he became chair of the Committee on Finance and Review.

In 1978, Barry was elected mayor of Washington, DC. He was only the second person elected to this position. Barry was elected to three consecutive terms as mayor and held the position for over a decade. It was in 1990 that Barry was arrested and charged with three counts of felony perjury, 10 counts of misdemeanor drug possession, and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to possess cocaine; however, he was convicted only of a single misdemeanor count of possessing cocaine in November 1989. He was acquitted on one possession charge and a mistrial was declared on the 12 remaining charges. Barry was sentenced to a six-month federal prison term in October 1990.

After being released from prison, Barry was successful in his 1992 bid for a city council seat. In 1994, Barry was elected to his fourth and final term as mayor, serving until January 1999.

On June 12, 2004 Barry announced that he was running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 8 council seat, a position he held before becoming mayor. Barry defeated the incumbent councilmember, Sandy Allen, on September 14, 2004, by a margin of at least 6025%, setting him up to win the Ward 8 council seat in the November general election by a margin of 964%.

In a 2005 interview with TIME magazine, Marion Barry spoke about his health, calling them not health problems, but health issues. "My diabetes and high blood pressure are under better control than they've ever been. I take my medication on time, watch my diet, eat sugar and sweets inmoderation. I'm not going to be as active as I was. I'm 68 years old. I can't run as fast as I used to run, but my mind is as good as it's ever been." However, early in 2009, Barry revealed his kidney troubles that he said were due in part to diabetes and high blood pressure. He successfully completed a kidney transplant in February of 2009.

On November 23, 2014 Marion Barry died from cardiac arrest. Following the memorial services he was buried in Washington's Congressional Ceremony on December 6, 2014. 

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Reviewed by dLife staff 02/15

Last Modified Date: September 03, 2015

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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