Civil Rights Tour: Protests
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

107 Rhode Island Avenue NW

"We want to free D.C. from our enemies, the people who make it impossible for us to do anything about lousy schools, brutal cops, slumlords, welfare investigators who go on midnight raids, employers who discriminate in hiring, and a host of other ills that run rampant through our city."
(Marion Barry Jr. to SNCC Executive Committee, 1966)

It was with these words that 29-year-old Marion Barry launched the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on a campaign to “free D.C.” The District's citizens are not represented in Congress, had no elected city government, and had only recently won the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections.

Barry came to D.C. in June 1965 to lead the city's SNCC chapter out of the building at 107 Rhode Island Avenue, where he lived upstairs. Six months later, SNCC pulled off a successful one-day bus boycott to protest a threatened fare increase. It was coordinated by antipoverty activist Willie J. Hardy who set up 45 stations at barbershops, churches, laundromats and elsewhere for people needing rides.  In 1966, SNCC moved its headquarters to 1234 U Street NW (demolished). 

Buoyed by the boycott's ability to mobilize thousands of black D.C. citizens, Barry launched Free D.C. in February 1966, shortly after Congress killed a home rule bill backed by President Johnson. The Congressional Quarterly reported that fears that “the Negro majority would dominate … city government” had led to the bill's demise. Indeed, that same fear had stripped D.C. citizens of their right to self-government almost a century earlier, as increasing numbers of black Washingtonians exercised the right to vote and were elected to office. Free D.C. focused on getting businesses, especially those catering to African Americans along H Street NE and 14th Street NW, to support home rule or risk being boycotted. As a result, more than 700 businesses displayed Free D.C. stickers in their windows. To increase community support, and to protest the city's lack of recreation facilities, Barry also organized a popular series of SNCC block parties. DC finally regained limited home in 1973.

In 2016, Barry was remembered by a nearby resident for engaging local youth in cleaning up the neighborhood. In fact, the training and employment of young black men in public works projects—largely to protect them from police violence—was at the heart of his next endeavor, Pride, Inc. After becoming a member of the city's first elected school board and then the City Council, Barry was elected Mayor in 1978 and served four terms.