"Mayor for Life" Marion Barry started his public career as a civil rights activist in the 1960s and later became mayor of the nation's capital. The 77-year-old is perhaps most famous for his 1990 arrest on drug charges, but that didn't stop his political comeback: He was elected mayor again in 1994 and now sits on the D.C. Council.
Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
Even though I'm a member of a particular faith -- Southern Baptist Pentecostal -- I think all religions and all faiths, by whatever name you call them, are man-made. I think it's the individual faith that's important. In terms of my own self, I went through several stages. I was made to go to church by my mother. I didn't like that at all, but I went. Then when I entered college and started majoring in science, scientists believe in -- the same thing that non-scientists believe in -- they believe in evolution, that life starts with a one-celled animal and goes on up and up. Went through that for a while. Then when I was at University of Tennessee, doing my Ph.D., we had a civil rights movement, trying to open up restaurants and things around the campus. The only white church that came to our aid was the Unitarian church. I'm convinced that if it had not been for my belief in a mighty God, I wouldn't have been able to meet a lot of these challenges. I went through the civil rights movement without being shot or harmed, and a whole bunch of folks were killed.
Was there ever a moment when you were "born again"?
When I was growing up, there was something called the mourning bench in the Baptist church. It goes on for a whole week. You sit on the mourning bench; you're supposed to "get it," like that, join the church, get baptized, all this kind of stuff. My mother became saved when she was 10. So I wanted to do the same thing. But I sat there -- last night was Friday night -- Mother said, "You feel it yet?" I said, "No, Mother, I don't feel it yet." And so to be frank with you I just gave it up. I've always believed in a God; the question is whether he was relevant to the situations. Once I came back [to the church] -- I guess you could call it being saved.
You've talked before about your struggle with drugs. How did God help you overcome that?
I was never a heavy drug user. I took drugs recreationally, but even that was tough to stop. The main thing -- you gotta have faith. In terms of the black community, a lot of our ancestors who were in slavery -- they stepped out in faith. It's like electricity -- you can't see it, but you know if you stick your finger in that socket, it's going to knock you out.
Do you have a favorite Bible passage?
One of them is Psalm 34, which talks about how your enemies will be cut down.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
I believe that God answers prayer. He might not do it in the time you want him to, but he'll do it. In the black community, there's increasingly a debate about Jesus being black. I believe if you look at the area where he was growing up, Israel, the Jordan, etc., there were no white people there.
- Liz Essley