Former Washington, D.C. mayor and civil right pioneer Marion Barry has died. Reports indicate Barry died from cardiac arrest Sunday night. He was 78.
With a personality as colorful as his life, Barry was the second mayor elected to Washington, D.C. serving from 1979 to 1991 and again from 1995 to 1999. At the time of his death he was serving as a member of the Council of the District of Columbia for Ward 8.
During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Barry was involved in the student sit-ins in Nashville, Tenn and was first chairman of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
After experiencing racial segregation in the South at the time, Barry joined the NAACP during his youth while a student a LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tenn. He eventually became president of the chapter.
Along with sit-ins in Nashville, Barry also worked on the movement to desegregate city busses, participated in voter registration and led protests.
“As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advance the cause of civil rights for all,” said President Barack Obama. “During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity, and begin to make real the promise of home rule.”
Barry eventually moved to Washington, D.C. to manage SNCC’s office. He stepped into politics in begin elected to school board in Washington in 1971 and was elected president in 1972, serving two years.
He was elected to Washington’s first city council in 1974. In 1978 he was elected mayor of Washington, D.C. serving three terms through 1991.
Elected to a fourth term in 1994 he served again through 1999. Going back to the city council, Barry was elected to the Ward 8 council seat in 2002 serving in that position until his death.
“Mr. Barry was a voice on the Council for human rights and civil rights,” said D.C. council chairman, Phil Mendelson. “He championed policies to help those who were most in need: “the last, the lost, and the least,” as he put it. Most recently he fought to restore benefits to families on welfare. It was issues like this where he was persistent and passionate. His voice will be missed.”
Barry died Sunday from cardiac arrest at United Medical Center in Washington, D.C. According to reports his family and close friends were at the hospital at the time of his passing.
Dealing with several health issues, Barry battled prostate cancer and diabetes. He received a kidney transplant in 2009.
Barry leaves behind his wife, Cora Masters Barry, and his son, Marion Christopher Barry.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.