According to reports, former Washington, D.C. Mayor and community activist Marion Barry has died. He was 78 years old.
The New York Times reports that The District of Columbia’s Medical Examiner’s office ruled the cause to be heart disease.
The legislator was elected four times and served as a council member in the District for 15 years. Barry, once head of the city’s Board of Education, is known for his community work and activism, however, his political career was often marred by drug scandal.
He was arrested after a 1990 law enforcement surveillance tape showed him using crack cocaine in a drug sting involving the FBI and Washington police, and once the footage was televised, his reputation took a major dive. He was convicted of possession and served six months in prison.
However, he was able to triumph over the scandal, and was re-elected as mayor in 1995. He would again serve on the City Council in 2004.
Former Harvard professor and civil rights leader Cornell West told CNN Barry “had his flaws” but was a “great freedom fighter” for the poor and disenfranchised.
Known as the first prominent civil rights activist to lead a U.S. city, Barry was an active Democrat and gave the presidential nomination speech for Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. He held degrees from Fisk University and LeMoyne College, was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and, in 1960, was elected the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizing civil rights demonstrations and rallies alongside leaders including Martin Luther King Jr.
An autobiography about his life was completed this year, co-written by Omar Tyree, called, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, detailing his upbringing and education, his commitment to the Civil Rights movement, his rise through the political ranks and challenges with addiction.