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For thousands of Americans, there was only one place to be

Inauguration Day was a lens through which many interpreted their own stories.

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It gives her students “hope,” she said, adding that she’s also pragmatic.
Obama may lift everyone up, but he can’t erase history and the differences between races. “Racism is something that will never go away,” she said. “Never ever.”

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Moses Johnson and his wife, Rita, a biracial couple from Philadelphia, were more hopeful. They met in Washington 43 years ago at the Hot Shoppe on 16th Street. As a college student in Kittrell, N.C., Mr. Johnson joined sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, where, he recalled, he got “beat up a few times and slapped by a policeman.”

“I was there when the crosses were burning and the baseball bats were flying,” he said. “It’s exciting to be able to stand here in my lifetime and realize there has been progress.”

“Sometimes it seems like things took a long time, and in other ways it seems like it went very fast – the way things have evolved. But this is special,” said Mrs. Johnson. “I came today because I feel I owe this to the next generation to try to begin to have some change and hope in this country, and because I’ve never forgiven myself for missing the March on Washington in 1963. And I would never forgive myself for missing another significant event.”

As the Mall filled up, people gathered around more than 20 JumboTron screens set up around the Mall, cheering as they got a glimpse of Obama or his family for the first time as the inauguration got under way.

People stood on dumpsters and sign trucks or climbed up trees to get a better view.
“The world is changing, and it’s about time,” said a black woman in a bright red coat. “Woooo hooo!”

The African-American community has in many ways lost its way, and Obama’s inauguration as president holds promise to turn it all around, said Doreen Bryant, standing on a sign truck at 14th and Constitution to watch a JumboTron screen across the street as Obama took the oath.

“We’ve lost sight of mentoring. We’ve lost sight of community,” said Ms. Bryant, an office manager at the Department of Energy.

As Obama talked about personal responsibility, she noted that it’s as much up to the African-American community to lift itself up as it is to government to provide more resources.

“It’s going to be work, and it’s not going to happen in the next five to 10 years,” she said. “It’ll take a lifetime.”

Clifton Beckley, in from Irvington, N.J., overheard the conversation, and joined in. Yes, African-Americans must stand up on their own, he said. But when you consider the all-black schools his children attend near Newark, he wondered if Obama couldn’t do something to provide more resources for his kids’ school. It’s not all African-Americans’ fault. They need help, he said.

“What I would like to see is someone who actually understands the dynamics of the inner city. Maybe this brother might understand what’s going on in that neighborhood,” he said.

But for all the hoopla over Obama, one thing is clear: He can’t change everything.

“We have a black president,” Mr. Beckley said, “but I still have to go to work tomorrow.”