WASHINGTON (AFP) – Hundreds of people – most of them African Americans – paid tribute Thursday to the US capital’s former mayor Marion Barry, passing by the coffin of the popular but controversial Washington political fixture.
Despite the cold weather, Washington residents waited on the sidewalk in long lines outside the mayor’s office, where the coffin of the former four-term mayor was available for viewing through Friday.
“We’re here to pay our last respects to him,” said Deborah Avent, a city employee wrapped in a massive scarf. Barry “was a great man, he did a lot for this city, for the youth,” said the woman in her 50s.
“He was a people’s man. He did a lot for us, African Americans,” added Vanessa Barksdale, 61.
“You could always count on him,” Barksdale added before heading into the building where the coffin rested in the lobby, topped with a red wreath, and sitting next to a portrait of Barry.
Thursday morning, the widow of the former mayor, Cora Barry, was standing beside the coffin receiving condolences, as were current Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the city council.
Barry, the Mississippi-born son of a sharecropper, dominated local politics in Washington for many years starting in the mid-1970s despite repeated scandals and multiple arrests.
The most notorious incident came during his third term as mayor when he was arrested in January 1990 for crack cocaine use and possession in an FBI sting operation caught on video.
The “mayor for life” was sentenced to six months in prison, but swept back into the city’s top post in 1994. He was still a sitting council member when he died on November 23, at age 78.
After three days of viewings, Barry’s body Friday will be brought in a procession to the Temple of Praise Baptist church he attended in southeast Washington, where there will be a full day of tributes including a series of eulogies, musical homages and religious services.
On Saturday, the former mayor will be memorialised again with a “celebration of the journey of mayor for life: Marion Barry” at the city’s convention centre.