AN EYEWITNESS TO BARACK OBAMA'S INAUGURATION
AN EYEWITNESS TO BARACK OBAMA'S INAUGURATION By Uriah J. Fields
On January 20, Barack Obama was inauguated the 44th president of the United States before 1.8 million people, many who came to the Washington Mall at 6 a.m., when the thermometer read 20 degrees. This was the largest crowd that has ever gathered on and around the Mall, eclipsing the 1.2 million who came for the inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Many millions more - perhaps billions - watched in fascination around the world.
I was among that vast number of eyewitnesses to Obama's inauguration. I left Charlottesville, Virginia several hours before the light of day on a chartered bus with about fifty other people who later rode Washington's jampacked Metro subway for an hour and a half and walked miles while being turned away from gates or having to squeeze through openings to enter or get near the mall, not to mention the Metro trains that ceased operation for seeral hours on the day of the historic inauguration.
Obama delivered a somber 18-minute and 37-second address. Like Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, his speech focusing on the "urgency of the now," was brief and substantive."
Some things he said regarding time: "On this day...we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." "But time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has passed." "The time has come to affirm our enduring spirit."
Obama's message was not just for Americans; it was for the world as expressed in the statement: "We're a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers." It is little doubt that people of other nations believe that meant they were being accepted.
The day after the inauguration front pages of newspapers from nations around the world, that include France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and China, congratulated the "United States on Obama as the first African American United States president."
Being an African American I watnted to hear what Obama had to say or not say about the legacy of African Americans that is underpinned by more than 400 years of slavery and segregation. He said "...because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot but believe that old hatreds shall someday pass." He noted in another reference to segregation that "fewer than 60 years have passed since his father would have been refused service in some Washington restaurants."
Obama reminds Americans that "we are keepers of the legacy." In his closing statement he offers a challenge to Americans while imagining the impact of their positive actions on future generations: "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let the journey end...we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
Although I was an eyewitness of Obama's inauguration, I had to come home and watch it on television to hear and to see more clearly the inauguration presenters, partly because picture-takers and parents hoisting their children on their shoulders obsrutcted my view as they did some other eyewitness observers of the imauguration. Nevertheless, I am elated that I was there, that I had a firsthand, rather than a mere vicarious, experience of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States.
A word for President Obama and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. We want you to know that we did not just come to Washington on January 20, 2009 for your inauguration...we're sticking around for a while - for four years, maybe eight years.
Copyright 2009 by Uriah J. Fields