A peaceful transition of power took place on January 20, 2009 at the Washington Mall on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. I sat in my living room with my husband and watched the 56th inauguration as our 44th president Barack Obama made history as the first African American man to lead the country. Not once in my adult or teen years have I been interested in politics. However, for the past two years I have followed the race closely and on November 4, 2008 when President Obama was elected, I may not have cried (emulating one woman quote in a newspaper “I knew Obama would win.”) but my heart was pleased as I remembered walks and marches, name calling and lynching my ancestors had endured for a moment like this: truly being respected for the ‘content of your character not the color of your skin’. So, as I reclined on the sofa, laptop in hand, I too was wrapped in blanket of hope, unity and change with the throng of people who stood in the Washington Mall and beyond on this freezing and windy day. As a journal-keeper, I scribbled quotes and snippets of the inauguration that inspired me. (Of course, I was thrilled to discover that Mrs. Obama had given Mrs. Bush the gift of a pen and a journal to write her memoirs.)
Here are a few of my inauguration musings as I sat glued to the tube from the moment the Obamas exited St. John’s Church met the Bushes for coffee and cookies to inauguration address and a glimpse at one ball.
This day is a moment of history among people, from grandmothers in fur to teens with nose rings and children with periscopes, who are united for hope and change.
Millions of young people will think differently in regards to their concepts and ideals.
Celebrities say: “He’s American grown. We picked the best man and I’m ready to go to work for him…and if he invite me to play ball with him, I’m there along with others most interested in playing the game with the president,” Irvin Magic Johnson entrepreneur and former basketball player. “It was a bit of a walk but a walk that got us here,” says Spike Lee, filmmaker, as his wife, Tanya Lewis- Lee, adds that she felt her ancestors walk with her across the mall.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, notes in her welcome, “…real and necessary change for this nation, this was the moment that the dream that echoed across this monument finally reached the walls of the White House.”
Rev. Rick Warren prayed for each member of the Obama household by name, what a sanction of protection; in addition to a plea of courage, humility and integrity for the new president.
I’m not sure if you heard it or not, but President Obama called the nation childish… “..as scripture says it is time to put away childish things…” Wow! What a spanking to all of America across gender, race, religion, and social status. And he’s right we are a ‘me, me, me’ nation. How much can I have despite the cost (and that price in not always monetary)? At another point in his address, the new president was paying homage to our ancestors, “who carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”
It wouldn’t be possible to not mention the First Lady Michelle Obama’s stunning creamy yellow dress with matching overcoat. The commentators mentioned that the First Lady could not decide which dress to wear until the morning of the inauguration and what a bold and confident statement she made. I loved those leather green gloves and shoes, as well as her sparkling crystal necklace. And the Obama children were stylish in dress along with good behavior.
My inauguration tube viewing ended with President and First Lady Obama dancing in the red circle on stage. For me it was a symbol of the first wedding dance as a couple, only the Obamas were united with the country.
Historical tidbits along the way:
The evening before the inauguration I received my daughter's teacher NEWFLASH, an e-newsletter about what's going on in the classroom. He included a link http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/daysevents/index.cfm to information about the inauguration. How many balls? The longest and shortest speeches? So it was quite interesting to watch the inauguration, knowing that each detail had been a well kept tradition; even the incoming and outgoing presidents riding in the car together. Did you know that the only two presidents that rode in silence, for 12 minute, were Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt?
As a matter a fact, FDR started the tradition of attending service at St. John's Church and Eisenhower insisted on the having lunch on the Hill in 1953 and Thomas Jefferson walked from the Capital to the White House and Jimmy Carter reinstituted the tradition.
George Washington delivered the shortest inauguration speech of 136 words and William Henry Harrison the longest of 8,445 words, in which he died 30 days later from pneumonia, according to Jeff Urbin, Educational specialist at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, who spoke at the Inauguration Celebration hosted by the AAWU , Poughkeepsie Branch on January 21.
Urbin also noted that FDR had the largest turnout of 500,000 people compared to Obama’s 1.4 million and he like Obama was inaugurated at war time and a financial crisis.
As a keeper of the legacy, I may not have been physically in the hub of the multitude on the freezing cold 20th day of January, but like many I plan to unclench my fist and extend my hand as I “ask not what my country can do for me but what I can do for the country.” In the process, I will remember “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and hold strong to Obama’s appeal: “We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”