I REMEMBER THE DC MAYOR FOR LIFE!
MARCH 6,1936--NOVEMBER 23, 2014
I remember Marion Barry, when he first blew into Washington, DC in 1965. He was like a midwestern hurricane. He came in as the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNNC). His credentials, he coordinated and led the African-American Civil Rights Movement in Tennesee and student sit-ins.
When he arrived in DC I had just returned home after spending two years chasing my dreams of playing in the NFL without success. I was home looking for a job when my friend Petey Green alerted me that the United Planning Organization (UPO) a self-help community organization was hiring. Petey knew the Director Jim Banks and told me to meet him at the 11th & U Street NW office the next morning.
UPO hired three Neighborhood Workers for the Shaw/Cardozo community. Petey Greene, H Rap Brown and me. The rest is community and media history. Coincident, that the same year the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee decided to make Washington, DC its home base---who would have thought that Petey Greene, H. Rap Brown, Harold Bell and Marion Barry would share and work on the same U Street corridor (Black Broadway).
The late Petey Greene would make his mark as a legendary community and radio/television personality and H Rap Brown would follow in the footsteps of Marion Barry as Chairman of SNCC. Brown is now serving a life sentence in Georgia for the shooting death of a State Tropper and Marion Barry died on Saturday November 23, 2014.
Marion would parlay his civil rights and community involvement activities into a political powerbase that will never be seen again in the Nation's Capital. He was the first civil rights activist to become Mayor of a major American city. In 1967 his path to political power was enhanced when he and his future wife Mary Treadwell co-founded Pride. Marion used Pride a self-help organization as a springboard to a seat on the schoolboard, City Council and become DC's Mayor for Life.
Pride was the brainchild of a NE street dude by the name of Rufus 'Catfish' Mayfield. Mayfield's childhood friend Clarence Booker was shot and killed by a white police officer. His crime, he had stolen a pack of cookies on the wrong side of the tracks. In a brief chase and confrontation with the police officer, his life ended in 1967.
Booker was unarmed (Ferguson/Michale Brown). Mayfield and Booker were both from my old neighborhood a NE housing project called Parkside. Thanks to a grant given to the DC Recreation Department by UPO to hire addittional Roving Leaders. I was hired and was assigned to the Youth Gang Task Force.
My first assignment, the scene of the crime in NE DC to help quell the violence that might result from this senseless shooting of a black teenager. There was an outcry of racism because of recent police brutality directed by the DC Police Department against the black community. The Federal Goverment intervened and made a deal with Catfish to provide job training for unemployed black youth. Pride, Inc. was born and the organization hired hundreds of teenagers to clean trash littered streets in DC. Mayfield was not a book learned individual and he brought Marion to the table for some direction---before he knew it he was on the outside looking in and Marion never looked back.
Petey and I were very territorial when it came to our hometown. H. Rap Brown won us over with his down to earth personality but when we encountered Marion it was like ships passing in the night. There was no animosity but there was an air of mistrust.
Marion was first elected to the DC Board of Education and served from 1971-1974. In 1974 he would serve his first term as a City Councilman. While serving on the council in March 1977 he was shot as a group of Hanifi Muslims took over the District Building. He lived to tell about it. He became a political icon. Against all odds he became a two term Mayor in the Nation's Capital. In 1984 he gave the presidential nomination speech for civil rights leader Jesse Jackson at the Democratic National Convention.
There are people in the media who are often heard saying, "You either loved Marion or you hated him, there was no middle ground!" I beg to differ, I didn't love Marion but I did not hate him either. He was a bright an engaging individual with a hard head that sometimes would not listen to people who had his best interest at heart.
The media people who thought they knew Marion didn't have a clue. He used them and beat them like a drum. He had them thinking that they had the inside story or scoop over one of their colleagues because he remembered their names.
Marion realized, the Karen Gray Houstons, Tom Sherwoods, Pat Collins, Joe Madisons, Maureen Bunyans, Courtland Milloys, and the Bruce Johnsons had no clue about the black community. He knew these media types only became experts on the black community after they became columnist and television/radio personalities. He was way out ahead of them when it came to the community. There was one television personality who was known in the black community as "Dr. Death." When you saw him and his crew it meant someone was dead. He never covered the 'Good News' stories.
In 1990 Marion was videotaped smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room in NW DC. This later became known as "The Bitch Set Me Up" heard around the world. The media know it alls had no clue of the upcoming sting.
The irony is that Marion was forewarned by yours truly. In the summer of 1989 I ran into the only guy in his entourage that I thought knew the definition of Integrity and Loyalty. Officer William Stays was his driver/security guard and a realy nice guy and class act. He had the Mayor's back.
Officer Stays was sitting in the car in Faces Restaurant parking lot on that summer evening when I approached him. Faces was the home of the "Power Lunch" for the so called in-crowd during the week and weekends who wanted to escape the rigors of the business world and politics. You could always find Marion there with members of his inner-circle. On this particular evening I asked Officer Stays to go and tell Marion I needed to see him in the parking lot right away. Stays never asked, "What was so important" He just when in and brought Marion back out with him.
It was in that parking lot I told Marion there was a FBI sting being organized to catch him in a compromising position and I thought it was best for him to step back and re-evaluate his position.
The next words out of his mouth, 25 years later still have me shaking my head.
He said, "Harold I appreciate your concern but I got all my bases covered." As he walked back into the restaurant I went over to Officer Stays who was now standing outside of his car. I told him about my concerns and Marion's response, he just shook his head and said, 'Harold what else can you do?' We shook hands and said 'Good night' and six months later, the bitch had set him up.
My "Deep Throat" source was an undercover FBI agent who hailed from Newark, New Jersey. We met on the U Street corridor during the riots and became fast friends. He would later leave the city for a new assignment and become an FBI Director in one of our urban cities (retired).
For 20 years Marion avoided coming on my radio show Inside Sports. He loved sports and loved the Washington Redskins but I could not get him to come on the show. In 1992 I lost a bet to him on the first Riddick Bowe vs Evander Holyfield Heavyweight Championship fight. I bet on Holyfield, Bowe won a uninamous decision to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. The pay-off, he would host a segment of Inside Sports. His special guest would be two of my favorite sporting personalities, Rock Newman and his wife Cora Masters Barry.
Marion and I would often frequent the same night clubs and after hours joints in DC. I knew his hangouts and the dubious characters he hung out with. Even though we were like passing ships in the night, Marion and I shared a lot of moments away from the media spotlight.
He loved sports but he had two left feet and his hand and eye coordination was not the best. The one game he did love was tennis and he made a sincere effort to learn the game. His tennis instructor was my college roommate and football teammate at Winston-Salem State University, the late Dr. Arnold McKnight. Mac would let me know where he and Marion would be hitting balls and I would show up and beat them both. Marion and I sometimes would meet up at the Hillcrest tennis courts located near his home on Suitland, Road, SE.
Mac was also the DC Boxing Commissioner and as I mentioned earlier Marion was a part of the Riddick Bowe championship years. Leading up to the rematch of the Bowe vs Holyfield fight Marion and I were at Hillcrest hitting some balls. He started talking about how Bowe was going to take out Holyfield in their rematch. I took the bait because everyone knew he was talking at me knowing I had already lost the previous bet.
I honestly think that Riddick Bowe could have easily gone down in boxing history as one of the all time great champions. But he had too many distractions around him (Rock Newman, Marion and Cora, Dick Gregory, Willie Wilson, etc). He had one of the all time great boxing trainers in his corner in Eddie Futch. The problem, he would not train and would not listen. He was overweight. Marion was not aware that I knew all the confusion surrounding the re-match. Trainer Eddie Futch had threaten to walk away if Bowe did not begin training seriously. There was one thing you could count on with Evander Holyfield, he was going to be in boxing shape.
I finally said to Marion, "What do you want to bet?" His response, 'Make it easy on yourself.' I knew Marion loved to gamble, so my response 'Lets bet $1,000." He said, 'Oh no.' I then countered with $500 and again he said, 'No.' He finally said, '$100' and I said, 'bet' and we shook hands. To make a long story short Holyfield beat Bowe and it took me 2 months to collect my $100 from Marion. One day I walked into Faces for lunch and there he was, before I could get over to him he had reached in his pocket and torn off a money order for $100. His parting words to me were "How did you know?" I said, 'Inside Sports.' Marion, was not a bad guy and I really liked him but he and Bowe had a lot in common--they dared to be great. When I think of great Black American politicians two come to mind, Adam Clayton Powell and Marion Barry.
The Washington, DC drug culture is a very small community and Marion's substance abuse was well known.
Kids In Trouble had Santa's Helpers with names like, Slippery Jackson, Bob Wayne, Phila. Jake, Dog Turner, Zack, Nook, and Cornell. These guys had a laundry list of entertainers, politicians and media personalities with drug abuse problems.
I was not surprised when Marion called WRC TV 4 News Anchor Jim Vance for assistance and advice during his substance abuse crisis.
Jim had been a main stay when it came to my community endeavors and my tennis partner, but it all came crashing down in 1978. One of my street contacts brought a check to me written by Vance for the drugs. Again, I was not surprised because the word had already filtered down to me. It was not a problem, because Vance had never tried to include me in his substance abuse activities. I was like the 3 Little Monkeys, "I saw no evil, I spoke no evil and heard no evil." My friend really liked Vance but he said to me and I understood exactly where he was coming from, "Man I cannot tell this brother to step back because I am in business. But I think it would be better coming from you."
That night I took the check up to WRC TV 4 and waited for my friend to finish his 11:00 newscast. When he came out the station I called him over to my car and gave the check explaining he needed to re-group. He took the check and stop speaking to me.
Jim Vance didn't speak to me again until 3 years ago (1978-2010). The spoken word was delivered while he was atteding a tribute to sportscaster Glenn Harris at Howard University.
He was there to pay tribute to Glenn. It was then I discovered where his head really was. He thanked Glenn for sticking by him during his trial and tribulations with drugs and had not left him blowing in the wind as some other friend! I could not believe my ears, it finally hit me he was talking about me. His words reminded me of vocalist Nancy Wilson's classic "Guess Who I Saw Today---I Saw You!" That was the way it hit me!
My thinking at the time I took the check up to the station, I thought I was trying to save the life and career of a dear friend. The death of Marion Barry and his reaching out to Jim Vance has allowed me to get this heavy load off of my shoulders and off of my chest.
He took selfishness to another level in 2007. I was watching the 11:00 news after I had pulled a 14 year old austic child off of the Potomac Avenue subway tracks in NE DC moments before a train rolled into the station. Vance's co-anchor Doreen Gangsler was praising me all over the set about the courageous act. He sit there like he didn't even know who I was? It was then I knew he had a real problem.
Marion Barry, on the Saturday before he was to start serving his 6 month jail sentence made Inside Sports his last media stop. I owe his appearance to my roommate, Dr. Arnold McKnight. Mac had called me on Friday evening and said, "Marion wants to be on Inside Sports tomorrow." My response, 'okay,' Never thinking he was really going to show.
I started my show the way I did every Saturday I gave the sports quiz and then turned around to see Mac and Marion coming into the station. Marion had this big smile on his face. He said as he entered the studio, "You thought I wasn't coming didn't you?" I took a commercial break.
When I came out of commercial break and introduced him, the first thing out of his mouth was "There is one thing you can count on when it comes to Harold Bell and that is the truth." He played me again, I decided I was not going to chastise him for not listening to me as it related to the charade at the Vista Hotel--he was only human.
When the show ended I wished him well and reminded him to stay strong and I would keep him in prayer. His last words were, "I wish now that I had listened to you!"
When the talented and gifted author Omar Tyree told me he was writing the Marion Barry story, "Mayor For Life" I had mixed emotions. I was happy for Omar who I had been a mentor to when he was attending Howard University and writing for the Godfather of community newspapers and my mentor, the late Ike Kendricks. I was concerned about how much of the real story would be told, because Omar did not know Marion. I realized this was exactly the way Marion wanted it.
Marion could have been the greatest black politician in black history. When I think of my definition of a black politician making a difference and doing it his way, I think of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. Move over Frank Sinatra. In the end Marion still did it his way---he was and is our DC Mayor for Life.