The Mayor for Life Takes Office

Marion and Effi Barry on January 2, 1979, after Mr. Barry was sworn in as mayor. (Photo credit: Star Collection, DC Public Library; © Washington Post)Marion and Effi Barry on January 2, 1979, after Mr. Barry was sworn in as mayor. (Photo credit: Star Collection, DC Public Library; © Washington Post) Nowadays they call him the "Mayor for Life," but 35 years ago Marion Barry was just getting started. In 1978, he narrowly defeated incumbent mayor Walter E. Washington and D.C. Council Chairman Stanley Tucker in the Democratic primary, and then coasted to victory over Republican Arthur Fletcher in the general election.

January 2, 1979 was the big day. Following an inaugural breakfast, which included remarks by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Barry participated in a parade through the streets of Washington. The procession of marching bands and dignataries started at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue and snaked through the city to 14th Street, which was still depressed from the 1968 riots.

Barry had personally chosen the parade route saying, “The 14th Street corridor represents the challenge and direction” that faced the new administration. “People on 14th Street never see a parade.”[1] As it turned out, most watched from windows or covered doorways on account of the rain.

At noon the new mayor was sworn into office by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the steps of the District building at 14th and E Streets, NW. Senator Ted Kennedy gave a speech. Then, it was time for the parties – an afternoon reception and an evening disco party featuring local artists Peaches and Herb and Julia & Co. and disc jockey Donnie Simpson.

A new era in D.C. politics had begun. It would be eventful to say the least. For more memories of this period, check out our Washington in ‘70s page on weta.org and join in the discussion.



[1] Coleman, Milton, “Barry Inaugural Plan: Disco, Parade on 14th Street,” Washington Post 22 December 1978: B1.

 

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