Hall of Fame Oklahoma journalist and broadcaster Dick Pryor of Norman recalls, below, attending the 2009 Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first black president.
My wife Lisa and I had never been moved to attend a presidential inauguration until Barack Obama was elected president. We inherently knew the inauguration of the nation’s first president of African American descent would transcend politics and be a once-in-a-lifetime moment that we, as Americans, had to experience first-hand.
American presidential inaugurations are displays of peaceful transition of power, but this one promised to be a defining moment in U.S. history. Across Washington, D.C, signs and mementoes promoted hope, change and the importance of this inspiring, young, mixed-race man becoming the 44th president. The message was inescapable. For many here, the vision of a more inclusive and perfect union clearly rested on his shoulders.
Walking the streets, we saw lightness and joy, and felt the presence of generations of people from all ethnic backgrounds whose collective dreams pointed toward this time. Total strangers hugged. Pressing heart to heart, each embrace we witnessed signaled that the struggle for dignity was easing as bonds of shared humanity formed, at last, in an expression of liberation and pride.
On Inauguration Day, 2009, single digit temperatures burned our lungs and numbed our feet as we huddled outside the security entrance to the National Mall in pre-dawn darkness under overcast skies. In front of the impending sunrise, the Capitol building beamed brightly, trimmed proudly in red, white, and blue.
Once through security, we found our place among the 150,000 observers with tickets closest to the Capitol. When we turned and looked behind, we saw the biggest part of the crowd already there. In place long before us, more than 1.5 million people, packed tightly, stood side by side with flags waving, as far as we could see.
It was overwhelming, so I walked all the way to the Lincoln Memorial to survey the scene and experience the breathtaking display of dedication and patriotism. People of all ages, nationalities, status, language, and appearance, with broad smiles and eyes glistening with hope and tears, confirmed the epic symbolic and human significance of this singular event.
When the president-elect first appeared on the big screen televisions in front of us, an immense wave of exhilaration swept through the crowd. I scanned the faces and focused on one particular person.
She was a small, graying, African American woman, probably in her 80s, a little too old to be outside for so many hours in this weather, despite her heavy coat and respectful hat. But here she was, as if representing the ages. While she watched Obama walk toward the Capitol steps to take the oath of office, she brushed away tears behind her glasses, and spoke for millions before who had quietly sacrificed, persevered, and believed in freedom, opportunity and the promise of America, when she proudly said: “Look how tall he’s standing.”
At that moment, the elegance and power of America, its past and future, united us in a celebration of our nation’s greatness and possibilities. And, as the newly-sworn president Barack Obama began to speak, the warm rays of the sun broke through the clouds.
It seemed as though a certain burden of history had lifted, and it was glorious.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.