It was a quarter of a century ago, when a long-armed, bashful and raggedly clothed Marion Barry wore the green and gold of the Booker T. Washington High School basketball team here and then went on to study chemistry at LeMoyne College, where his name soon became synonymous with radical civil rights activism in this city.
Today, a politically more mature and mellow Barry, wearing a gray, three-piece business suit, strolled the same drab halls of that high school next to the railroad tracks and spoke as an honored guest at the college whose campus he had once thrown into turmoil. This time Barry was a symbol of success, rather than dissent.
The mayor-elect of the District of Columbia, spoke humbly, at one point lowering his voice and slightly bowing as he stood behind a chemistry table in a large classroom at the college and said he would always remember his roots in this poverty-ridden, once strongly segregated -- but fiercely proud -- black community on the city's south side.
"One thing that I will never forget," he said "is where I came from, who I am, what I represent and what and who made me what I am."
The audience remained quiet for a second, and Barry's mother, Mattie Cummings, looked on from her seat and smiled with pride.
Barry returned to Memphis to attend the mid-term Democratic National Convention, which formally began at the Cook convention center today. Supporters and friends both here and in Washington are using the occasion, however, as a chance to fete the 40-year-old mayor-elect as a hometown boy who has made good.
The area around Barry's alma mater is in many respects the same now as it was when he was a student. There are narrow streets with crumbling two-story buildings, dirt-lawn housing projects, small wood-framed shacks and a few brick homes, and a scattering of small community businesses, like the Fourway Grill -- where student Barry often ate -- and the Lucky Strike Cleaners.
"Some of the physical appearances have changed," Barry told a reporter. "But I don't see 20 years of progress." His message was the same to students at the college, about 100 of whom came to hear him on this the last day before final exams begin.
"Things are not all right in America. There's still a vast amount of segregation, discrimination, racism and sexism," he said."Black people have to be two or three times better than white people in some instances just to to be equal.
"In Washington, D.C., I'm sure a lot of people expect me to be five times better than the mayor of Seattle, Washington. Because I'm black they're gonna say you have to do a lot better."
Throughout much of the morning and early afternoon today, Barry had brief individual reunions with many old friends, classmates and teachers who were by and large impressed with his broader, less radical approach to solving the problems he saw.
They also remembered old times.
William Cross, now dean of students at the college, was a close friend of the mayor-elect during their days at LeMoyne. "We partyed together, we ran around together, we ran after the girls together," said Cross who still calls Barry "Shep," short for Sheplovak, the middle name Barry gave himself in college.
Juanita Williamson, a distinguished service professor of English, was standing with political science professor Howard Sims in the hallway when their former student came into the building yesterday. Barry looked first toward Sims and said, "That's where I made all A's." Then smiling at Williamson, he added, "I didn't do anything in English."
Students at both Booker T. Washington High School and LeMoyne-Owen College, indicated they saw Barry as a model for success and inspiration.
"I'm glad he came here to the school because he was very helpful in building up our pride," said Lee Head, president of the freshman class at the college. "People always say well, you know. LeMoyne, it's black, and it doesn't have that many students.
"But he showed that being at LeMoyne-Owen is not a crutch. He graduated from LeMoyne and he's the mayor of D.C. So that means with black people, it doesn't matter where you go."