This is the third installment of a series (see the first two installments here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.
Chapter 2: Roots of Anger
In 1967, Marion Barry jaywalked at the corner of 13th and U Streets NW. He was nearly run down in the street. When police confronted him, he swore at them. When police (addressing Barry as "boy") told him he'd be fined five dollars, he swore some more. He refused to show ID. He was arrested. He scuffled with police. He was released early the next morning on $1,015 bail.
"The majority of black Washingtonians thought that Marion was a thug," said radio and television veteran Jerry Phillips (l. 484).
Marion Barry was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi but lived in Memphis, Tennessee from age four to when he finished college in 1958, part of a family of ten.
Barry's mother said: "We weren't poor. It was just so many mouths. We always had plenty to eat, clothes, a decent place to live." (l. 508)
Barry has a Master's Degree in Chemistry. He was a few credits short of a doctorate.
While studying as an undergraduate, he became involved in the still-new civil rights movement in Nashville. He worked to desegregate lunch counters and libraries.
He was present at the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became its first chair. He attended the 1960 Democratic Convention and testified before the platform committee. He got his first mention in the national media -- the New York Post.
During the same period, Barry met, wooed, married, abandoned, and was divorced from this first wife, Blantie Evans. Barry did a lot of womanizing, and was accused of sexual assault.
"He was abusive," says now-Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). "He knocked women around." (l. 618)
Barry moved to DC for the first time in 1965. He lived above the SNCC office at 107 Rhode Island Avenue. He did a lot of fund-raising.
"... Barry wasn't satisfied just with raising money. He sensed that SNCC was losing its clout and that the civil rights movement itself was moving into a new phase..." (l. 653)
In December 1965, city bus fares were raised from 20 to 25 cents. Barry and allies set up a successful bus boycott. When a home rule bill died in Congress, Barry and allies set up the "Free DC" campaign.
Storeowners were asked to display a "Free DC" signs in the window of their stores and donate five dollars. However, Barry got into the business of personally walking into larger Jewish-owned retail stores and asking for a larger donations based on his estimation of what the store could afford. This caused some allies to drop Barry, but many businesses, "especially along the 14th Street and H Street corridors" (l. 725), put up the signs.
Barry and the President of DC's powerful Board of Trade alternately traded publicly insults and arranged to meet each other privately.
As the Free DC movement wound down in late 1966, Barry met his second wife, Mary Treadwell.
"In the aftermath of Free DC, he [Barry] penned long memos to SNCC and sharpened his aim at confrontations that would galvanize the black community's rage. The police were clearly the most obvious villains..." (l. 789)
Barry's trail on charges stemming from the jaywalking incident filled the courtroom. His defense team lined up character witnesses of various races and professions, including a retired police officer and many clergy members. Barry was acquitted. Barry made a speech outside the courthouse, declaring his case "a great victory for Negroes and poor people". (l. 808)
The white arresting police officer, Tommy Tague, was painted as a racist, and his life was made miserable. "Black activists picketed his house in Prince Georges Country, Maryland, and threw rocks through his window. His dog was poisoned, he suspects by protesters. The picketers used a bullhorn outside his home. A month later, Tague's wife moved out with the children. She later filed for divorce." (l. 811)
" 'I made Marion Barry,' says Tommy Tague." (l. 810)
Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues next week
Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts will be cross-posted on the ad-hoc "Cheater's Guide to Dream City" blog.
Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.
This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.
Read the next installment of Cheater's Guide to "Dream City" here.