For thousands of Americans, there was only one place to be
Inauguration Day was a lens through which many interpreted their own stories.
Even before dawn, the National Mall began filling up with throngs of people – happy, diverse, supportive – with no doubt as to why they were there.Skip to next paragraph
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The inauguration of Barack Obama was a historic moment, and despite the distance, the hardship, and the bitter cold there was no other place to be.
For some, the day marked a lifetime of protest and hope, a celebration of values they hold dear. For the youngest among them, it was a chance to see something great.
Some faced the day wrapped in fur and leather, others in sweatshirts that barely kept out the cold. What they shared was a sense of the momentousness of the moment.
“They could be sitting at home in a warm, cozy place, but this is history,” said Principal Judy Phillips. The students, ranging from fourth to seventh grade, left home in the Bronx at 11 p.m. and arrived in Washington at 4:30 a.m.
“I wanted to come. Just the thought of having a black president, it’s really great for us African-Americans to be looked at in a different way,” said Kwoade Cross, an eighth-grader from Harlem who got to come along at the last minute when his cousin showed up with an extra ticket. “But I didn’t know it was going to be this cold.”
He tells a story: “I was in McDonald’s and my friend called me the ‘N’ word, and a man turned around and said: ‘Do you know what you’re saying, young man?’ And we said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he said: ‘Slave masters used to call us that because we wouldn’t amount to nothing,’ and I looked around and he was right.
“Now look at us! Nearly a hundred years later, they can’t say anything now. We’ve got a black president. The people who still believe that we should be slaves or still be discriminated against, they see now that we’re not dumb,” he added.
By mid-morning, with hours to go before the president-elect laid a hand on the Lincoln Bible, two-for-$5 handwarmers were circulating faster than bottled water on those scorching days more typical of life on the National Mall. When Lauren Morhand, from Arlington, Va., called out that she was selling the must-have foil packets to raise money for her June wedding, people nearby burst into applause.
Knowing that bridges from Virginia would be closed, Nigel Hutchinson and Esa Martel set their alarms for 2 a.m. to be sure to be on one of the first subway cars to cross the river. Their 11-year-old son, Storm, barely visible through hats and scarves, wasn’t convinced this was a good idea.