As images from the 1968 riots flashed on a large screen hanging over the stage at the Kennedy Center yesterday, Cora Burton was reminded of how her father's barbershop near Seventh and M streets NW was destroyed when a rioter threw a Molotov cocktail through the shop window.
"I am very proud of the fact that we have come a long way," said the 72-year-old Burton, who had been invited to hear Mayor Marion Barry deliver his State of the District address. "But we still have a long way to go."
Yesterday's event, billed as a celebration of 20 years of progress, was an opportunity for many, like Burton, to reflect on the past. The crowd of more than 2,000 senior citizens, schoolchildren, D.C. Council members, local judges, members of the mayor's Cabinet, city employees and other city residents watched a 10-minute slide show that chronicled the District government from its first appointed council two decades ago to the current Barry administration.
When the slide show ended and Barry was introduced, the crowd gave the mayor a standing ovation as he approached the microphone. Barry stood there for a moment and then walked over to his wife, Effi, who was standing on stage, and gave her a kiss.
For the next 40 minutes, the mayor, remembering John F. and Robert F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, spoke of his own accomplishments and his hopes and vision for the future.
His speech was interrupted more than a dozen times by applause.
At one point, when the mayor mentioned the possibility of raising taxes, he turned and smiled at council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), who is chairman of the council committee that oversees taxation. Many in the crowd laughed.
When the mayor finished his speech, the crowd gave him another standing ovation and then the Eastern High School choir led the audience in a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
As crowd members exited, they were given digital table clocks commemorating the occasion.
Herbert O. Reid Sr., staff director and legal counsel to the mayor, said the State of the District address, which has not previously been given at the Kennedy Center, was given there this year because "we thought we needed special emphasis."
Many in the audience, especially the children, said they had been inspired by the mayor's address.
"I think it was important," said Michael Anthony Grooms, 15, who was attending the event with his eighth-grade American history class from Taft Junior High School in Northeast. Michael, who visited the Kennedy Center for the first time, said he was pleased that the mayor had made drugs the priority of his administration. "We do need to make the city better," he said.
Edward Augburn, a 6-year-old first grader at John F. Cook Elementary School in Northwest, said he liked the mayor's speech because he talked about King. "Dr. Martin Luther King tried to help us. He tried to fight for freedom. And then he died," Edward said.