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Oral history interview with Kenneth "Kenny" Barnes, Sr., 2019

Creator: Barnes, Kenneth
Project: Forty Percent oral history collection on gun violence in America.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcript: 100 pages
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

Kenneth "Kenny" Barnes, Sr., was born at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1945, and grew up in the Trinidad neighborhood. He was bused to Wilson Elementary School and attended McKinley High School. He got married in 1962, and his son Kenny, Jr. was born that year. Barnes also had four daughters. He worked in a variety of professions, including as an insurance agent and a concert promoter. While promoting concerts in the 1970s, he started the "Friday Night Go-Go," which contributed to the creation of the D.C. music genre Go-Go. Kenny retired in 1990 after a severe asthma attack left him on a ventilator for a month. He decided to go back to college, and by the 2000s he was working on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Loyola University. Kenny Barnes, Jr. was murdered in his store Boutique U in 2001 by a seventeen-year-old acquaintance with an illegal gun. After his son's murder, Barnes became a gun violence prevention activist. After receiving no response from the mayor's office regarding his son's case, Barnes founded a nonprofit, ROOT (Reaching Out to Others Together) to address gun violence as a public health crisis. With Kenny, Jr.'s widow, Annette Gregory Barnes, he fought Youth Services Administration (YSA) in court, helping to get it replaced by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). He created sociological questionnaires to understand D.C. children's experiences with gun violence. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder awarded him with the National Crime Victim Service Award. In 2010, he played a major role fighting the Second Amendment Enforcement Act, which sought unsuccessfully to overturn D.C.'s ban on semiautomatic weapons. In 2019, he worked with the Milken Institute at George Washington University to bring youth and police together through The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials (NOBLE) to discuss issues of perceptions and communication between the two groups

Scope and Contents

This life history interview with Kenneth "Kenny" Barnes, Sr. begins with his childhood in segregated Washington, D.C. He speaks about his family, including his grandparents, parents, first wife, and five children. In particular, he describes his son, Kenny, Jr., their relationship, and Kenny, Jr.'s life at the time of his murder in 2001. Barnes describes the agony of the day of Kenny, Jr.'s murder, and the emotional and legal aftermath for him and his family. He describes his subsequent activism, gun violence prevention, and gun violence as a public health crisis. Life and places in Washington, D.C. receive considerable attention. Places covered include: the Trinidad neighborhood where Barnes grew up in the 1950s; U Street, Northwest, where he attended Walker Memorial Baptist Church as a child and where his son was murdered in his clothing store in 2001; and Mount Olivet Cemetery, where his son was buried. He also addresses places associated with his promotion of Go-Go music in the 1970s, including the nightclubs Club Lebaron, Showboat Arena, and the Burgundy Room, and radio stations such as WPFW, WOL, and WHUR


Access Conditions

Copyright by Kenneth Barnes, Sr. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York hold a non-exclusive license to enable library activities

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