The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in a New Age of Black Leadersby Jonetta Rose Barras
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The 1990 FBI videotape of Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry smoking crack transfixed television viewers nationwide. Shouting now-notorious obscenities at the woman who helped agents trap him, Barry was publicly disgraced, his personal and political life apparently wrecked. But in 1994, following his release from federal prison, Barry was elected once more to serve as mayor of the nation’s capital.
How did Barry pull off his political resurrection? Why are African-Americans so enamored of him? And why, despite his return to power, has Barry’s story so dramatically lost promise?
In The Last of the Black Emperors, author Jonetta Rose Barras explains the many paradoxes of Marion Barry’s career, and documents the growth of his racial and political identities parallel with those of his largely black constituency. Barras places the D.C. mayor in context, comparing him with politicians—black and non-black—of his generation, and with “the new black leaders” who have rendered his style obsolete. Focusing on the period from Barry’s 1992 prison release, through his 1994 mayoral victory, and the subsequent erosion of his influence in the nation’s capital, Barras’s study traces the uneven trajectory of a wily, controversial, but captivating personality.
Barras also offers glimpses of young Barry—his childhood in the south under Jim Crow, his early political life in the civil rights movement and SNCC, and his forsaking activism for the pursuit of elected office. The Last of the Black Emperors shows us Barry as an embodiment of Anansi the Spider, a “trickster” figure from African folklore who is both victim and victor, and resounds in the psyche of black America to this day.
- Bancroft Press
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Meet the Author
Jonetta Rose Barras is a columnist and former reporter for the Washington Times, a former associate editor of the Washington City Paper and a frequent contributor to the New Republic, The Washington Post and American Enterprise Magazine.
A respected authority on black politics, Barras has provided commentary for NPR's All Things Considered, CNN and C-Span. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, and is also a published poet.
Barras resides in Washington, D.C.
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