Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on Sunday gathered thousands of his followers in Philadelphia for a 16th anniversary celebration of his Million Man March. And warming up the crowd for Farrakhan was none other than D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).
Nancy Phillips of the Inquirer reports:
Before Farrakhan took the stage, the crowd applauded Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, who said he was honored to have helped clear the way for the inaugural gathering in 1995.
“It does matter who’s the mayor of the town,” he said. “This black man stood up and gave the entire town to the march. . . . When you get power, use it for our people.”
Barry recalled that the National Park Service had initially estimated the crowd that year at fewer than the one million that organizers had billed it to be. “I knew it was a lie,” said Barry, whose mayoral tenure was marred when he was caught using crack cocaine and who is now a member of Washington’s City Council. “So I got up in a helicopter and I looked and I discovered that white men can’t count either.”
Barry’s appearance with Farrakhan continues a long, convoluted history, dating back at least to the days of the 1984 presidential campaign when both were strong backers of Jesse Jackson’s candidacy.
Barry largely kept mute after Jackson’s association with Farrakhan and his anti-Semitic views became major issues in the race (especially after Jackson made his infamous “Hymietown” comment to the Post’s Milton Coleman). But after the campaign ended, Barry addressed a group of Jewish city voters and rebuked Farrakhan comments on the “wickedness” of Jews, though he refused to denounce Farrakhan personally. Farrakhan paid him back with this comment, made weeks later in a Baltimore address: “[Barry] repudiates me because of Jewish pressure and then wants to talk to me on the phone afterward. Such hypocrisy!”
Barry largely ignored Farrakhan in the following years, inadvertently sparking a local political controversy in 1989 after failing to attend a Farrakhan event at the D.C. Armory. The snub prompted Nation of Islam supporters to approach D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) about introducing a resolution honoring Farrakhan for his anti-drug efforts. The resolution, which passed on a voice vote, ended up as a major issue in the following year’s council elections.
But after Barry’s January 1990 drug arrest, he leaned on Farrakhan repeatedly for political support, starting with a private meeting weeks after the bust. That June, Farrakhan publicly urged Barry to run for a fourth consecutive term as mayor, calling him a “repentant soul.”
That summer, Farrakhan sought to attend Barry’s trial in federal court, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson at first refused to allow him in the courtroom, calling him “potentially disruptive” and “very likely intimidating.” That decision was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, and Jackson later reversed himself.
Barry did not run in 1990, but after he won the Ward 8 council seat in 1992, he came to Farrakhan’s defense after women were refused entry to another Armory event in 1994, sparking protests. And after Barry returned to the mayor’s office in 1995, he became a stalwart supporter of Farrakhan’s Million Man March, declaring himself “100 percent committed” to it shortly after its announcement.
Barry addressed the crowd on Oct. 16, 1995; from the Post report:
Barry, who exuberantly addressed the crowd as “my brilliant, beautiful black brothers,” drew on his well-known struggle with drugs and alcohol to inspire those in attendance to better their lives. It was one of the few direct references Barry has made to his personal problems since he was reelected last year.
“I am here to tell you, I know firsthand God’s power, God’s grace and God’s redemptive love,” Barry said. “God took me from the mountain top to the valley and back to the mountain top again.
“Look at me. Look at me now. I’ve come back stronger and wiser than ever before. If God can do that for me, He can certainly do it for you. Rise up, black people, and be strong.”
In the following years, as Barry’s battles with Congress escalated, Farrakhan rose to the defense of the mayor and his city, calling for resistance to the federal control board and refusing to denounce Barry: “I can’t crucify my brother,” he said. “If Mayor Barry can’t be redeemed, how in the hell can the white man be redeemed?” Two months later, on the second anniversary of the Million Man March, Barry declared a citywide “day of atonement and reconciliation” and urged black city employees to take vacation days.