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Marion Barry 1978 campaign oral history project

Identifier: MS2342

Scope and Contents

This collection contains oral histories (both audio and video recordings) of people associated with the Marion Barry campaign for mayor in 1978. The oral histories were conducted between 2015 - 2017. The collection also contains reports, t-shirts, buttons, publications and photographs associated with D.C. political history and the Barry campaign. These paper and artifact materials date from 1975 - 1985.


  • Creation: 1975 - 2017


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical note

In 1978 DC voters went to the polls to elect the second Mayor of the District of Columbia after the city was granted Home Rule in 1974. Marion Barry, an at-large member of the DC Council, ran against incumbent Mayor Walter Washington and Sterling Tucker, the DC Council Chairperson.

Barry was widely considered to be a maverick and a “street dude”. He had abandoned his university doctoral program in chemistry in order to become a leader in the civil rights movement. He came to DC in 1965 to establish a chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and quickly became prominent in local affairs. He founded Pride, Inc., an organization to train and employ young people. In 1971, he was elected to the DC Board of Education and became President of the Board. In 1974, Barry won an at-large seat in the first Home Rule City Council and was reelected to that seat two years later.

In the 1978 race, all the professional polls showed that Barry had zero chance of becoming Mayor, but he did. His election was a transformational moment in the political history of the District. Barry wooed and attracted dedicated and energetic political and community leaders who wanted a more progressive government; they viewed the campaign as a crusade for the soul of the city. A brilliant strategy was implemented by Barry's campaign manager Ivanhoe Donaldson. The Washington Post not only endorsed Barry but published follow-up editorials arguing for his election. And critical to the campaign's success, the Barry campaign registered large numbers of new voters and motivated others who rarely voted to come out for him. In a city dominated by the Democratic Party, the real contest occurred in the September Primary. The three candidates for mayor split the vote, with Barry receiving just a few thousand votes more than his competitors. He went on to win the General Election by a large margin. He was Mayor for three terms from 1979 until 1991 and was elected to a fourth four-year term in 1994.

In 2014, a couple of veterans of the 1978 Barry Campaign were reminiscing about that extraordinary summer and the enduring friendships that were forged among Barry's supporters. We decided that an oral history needed to be recorded before any more of us died, or as we euphemistically phrased it, “went to the great polling booth in the sky”! We recruited others to help us do the interviews, were delighted that the Gelman Library was eager to house our work and raised some funds for expenses.

Written by Betty King, 2015 December


91 item(s) (45 interviews, 45 transcripts, 1 pdf) : Digital files

1 Linear Feet : Paper and artifact records

Language of Materials



This collection contains oral histories (both audio and video recordings) of people associated with the Marion Barry campaign for mayor in 1978. The colletion also contains a small amount of paper records and artifacts related to the campaign and District government. These oral histories were conducted between 2015 and 2017. The collection as a whole dates from 1975 - 2017.


Organized into three series: Recordings, Paper records and artifacts, and WTOP program "The Making of Marion Barry"

Physical Location

The digital files for the recordings and transcripts have been uploaded to the Internet Archive. Use the links associated with an interview to hear the recording and read the transcript. If there is not a link please ask staff for assistance.

The paper and artifact records are housed off-site. Please ask staff for assistance.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Betty King, Kwame Holman, Diane Lewis, Gladys Mack, and Richard Maulsby, August - October 2015 (2015.036). Additional recordings have been donated as the project has continued.

See the Immediate source of acqusition note for Series 2 for the paper and artifact records donated.

Series 3 was a gift of WTOP 2019 August (Accession 2019.071)

Guide to the Marion Barry 1978 campaign oral history project collection, 1975-2018
In Progress
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

George Washington University Gelman Library
2130 H Street NW
Washington DC 20052 United States of America