Early yesterday morning, Marion Barry, D.C. City Councilmember and former mayor, passed away at the age of 78.
We remember him with these archival highlights:
When JHSGW interviewed Barry in 2006 as part of an oral history project documenting the history of Giant Food, he spoke about the 1979 opening of the Giant store at Eighth & O Streets, NW, and its significance in rebuilding the city:
As you can imagine, the city had been devastated with the disorders of '68. Things were burned down, it was a shell of a city, people were depressed, and jobs had been lost from these establishments. So we were anxious to get some consumer goods...and my recollection, I don't even know where the closest Safeway was, but it certainly wasn't around that area of D.C. And we were very ecstatic about that store [Giant at Eighth & O] being opened.
These two items are from the collection of Janice Eichhorn, an activist for Washington, D.C.'s political rights. Eichhorn worked on Barry's staff starting with his 1978 mayorial campaign until 1992, when she retired from her position as a senior policy analyst.
Her papers were contributed to our archives by her sister in 2011.
In a 2010 oral history recorded by Glenn Richter, Ruth Newman, longtime leader of D.C.'s Soviet Jewry movement, recalled seeing Barry at the 1987 Freedom Sunday March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall:
When we were...marching down Constitution Avenue, out of nowhere came the then Mayor of the City of Washington, Marion Barry. He said, "Washington," [upon seeing] our banner -- 'Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry.' He said, "That's where I belong," and all of a sudden he puts himself between those of us who were carrying the banner. He walked a couple of blocks with us and then he saw somebody else he knew and off he went.
Accession No. 2004.13 Donor: Constance Tobriner Povich Description: Walter Tobriner and Fair Housing in Washington, D.C.
Fighting Persistent Housing Discrimination
Walter N. Tobriner was a native Washingtonian and lawyer whose career was distinguished by his service to his hometown. While serving on the Board of Education from 1952-1961, he was responsible for carrying out desegregation of D.C.'s public schools. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Tobriner to the city's Board of Commissioners. At that time, the Commissioners were D.C.'s governing body whose three members were Presidential appointees. Tobriner served as its president for six years.
During that same period, Tobriner was Chairman of the National Capital Housing Authority. Ending housing discrimination in Washington, D.C. was among his priorities. In the early 1960s, real estate agents, developers, banks, and landlords had a "gentlemen's agreement" not to sell houses to non-whites.
In addition to fighting this informal discrimination, Tobriner sought to end discrimination in housing contracts. Some house deeds and neighborhood-association agreements included restrictive covenants that prevented residents from renting or selling to certain minorities. Even after the Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants unconstitutional in 1948 (Shelly v. Kraemer), a handful of prominent developers and neighborhood associations continued to include these covenants in contracts with homebuyers.
Consequently, many African-American, Jewish, and other District residents, as well as several foreign visitors, were unable to rent or purchase housing in some buildings and neighborhoods. It was an issue that had both a local and global resonance. Tobriner argued this point in his testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962:
"In certain sections of our city, persons are still denied equal access to housing for no reason other than that of their religion or the color of their skin. With the emergence of a score of African nations, the problem of African diplomats in finding housing has added a new dimension to what is already a matter of concern."
Many African states had won independence from their European colonizers over the previous decade. In Washington, their new diplomats were unable to rent or purchase homes in the same neighborhoods as their counterparts from other countries.
Tobriner brought about fair housing ordinances aimed at ending this discrimination. But it was only in 1968, the year after he left the Board of Commissioners, that federal law followed suit. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
A Regional Dimension: Restrictive Covenants
Housing discrimination was not confined to Washington, D.C. As thousands of Jews migrated to suburban Maryland and Virginia in the 1940s−1960s, many encountered restrictive covenants in deeds and contracts. Although legally unenforceable after 1948, even deeds for some new homes included such clauses.
This 1949 covenant in a deed for a house in Bethesda, MD stipulates that the property could not be sold or even leased to African Americans, "Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Persians, and Syrians." However, this restriction did not apply to servants living in the house.
Many homeowners have since had restrictive-covenant clauses legally removed from their deeds. Still, the deeds for some houses throughout the Washington area continue to include similar clauses – although they are legally unenforceable. The current owner of this house in Bethesda decided to keep the clause in her deed as a testament to the history of housing discrimination in the D.C. area.
Have a story about facing housing discrimination in the D.C. area? We want to hear it: firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 789-0900