The Inauguration and the Magic City

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Past the rows of police cars and media trucks, past the posters of Martin Luther King, Junior, and Barack Obama, just inside the building is Marty McArthur. A white turtleneck peeks from behind her t-shirt which declares “Change Can Happen.” She greets people with “Happy Obama Day” and hands out little American flags and programs.

“You got one to take back to school? You do? You got them covered.”

She particularly wants school children to have the programs – a memento of history. McArthur says people are in good spirits as they come in from the cold.

“A lot of high-fiving. Even they will take their hand off their cane to high-five you.”

McArthur mentions the oft-repeated assertion that she didn’t think she’d live to see an African-American elected president. It’s a feeling shared by Broderick McMullin. He’s second in command at the concession stand. No presidential themed food though. Not even “Barack-a-cola.”

“No, no, we have all Pespi products.”

The nachos are popular, he says, with the younger crowd. McMullin is a high school history teacher and he says Mr. Obama has already generated interest in civil rights history among his students. But he says teaching American History will be different after January 20, 2009.

“I mean you know now that anything is possible, you know, with this happening.”

This inauguration will certainly be recorded in the history books, but the country is also in historic economic times. Something not lost on Rocky Reeves. He is hoping for the best in Barack Obama.

“I think he has good ideas. I think he has the leadership skills. If anybody can do it, I think President Obama will. You know, I worry that he’ll do a fantastic job, better than anybody else could have done, but still not be able to pull us out.”

The auditorium itself is dark. Police officers urge people not to block doors. It’s standing room only, although not so packed there’s no room to maneuver. Flanking the screen above the stage are two large American flags. Red and blue stars are projected above the stage and to either side, the words hope and change. The throngs cheer and chant when President-elect Obama appears on screen. What they’re waiting for, though, is the oath of office.

Cameras flash like strobe lights. Balloons and confetti fall from the ceiling.

Despite all of the revelry, all of the history, Ted Roberts looks somewhat subdued. He’s 77. A foot soldier of the civil rights movement. He sat at lunch counters. Also demonstrated. Roberts says he was young enough he didn’t get taken to jail. Instead the police took him to Legion Field or the Fair Grounds leaving his parents to pick him up the next morning. Now what does President Barack Obama mean?

“So we came a long ways by Obama being the first black president. That’s a big
start. But we need to go further with this.”

He notes the lack of white faces in the crowd and mentions white flight to the suburbs. Roberts says obviously some white people did vote for Mr. Obama, but he seems skeptical of people truly accepting living among those of different races. Wanza Reynolds though is caught up in all the revelry. It’s surreal she says. The country has changed and won’t be the same anymore.

“I think everything that will happen will be what America has always promised
and now the delivery is here. The delivery van has arrived!”


Listen Now
Many children attended the celebration at Boutwell Auditorium. Ranging from infants in strollers to high school volunteers, all seemed excited about the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Some of them shared their own hopes and wishes for the new president.


Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager