As dawn broke, frigid and blustery, on Tuesday, January 20, the anticipation of Barack Obama’s inauguration by supporters in the Washington, D.C. area was difficult to miss.
With nearly all roads into Washington from the suburbs closed to everyone except city buses, dozens of celebrants gathered near the Burtonsville area of Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, bundled up and waiting for the 6 a.m. bus to take them into the city.
Crowds waiting near one of the National Mall checkpoints.
Men, women, and children, mostly Black, shouted greetings to strangers and sporadically called out “Obama” in exhilaration. One bus patron shouted back to the crowd, “Y’all don’t understand. I was there when we couldn’t drink at the same water fountain.”
But not even the memory of the not-so distant, blatantly racist past of the U.S. could dampen spirits. Sporting a myriad of Barack memorabilia like T-shirts, buttons, hats and signs, visitors and residents alike crowded the Metro (Washington’s subway system) at the Silver Spring station.
One family, a mix of relatives from New York and Los Angeles, huddled together and shot the breeze with the lifelong Washingtonians seated near them. Among them stood Jenny Wilson, a Los Angeles resident who had called her East Coast family immediately after Barack was announced the winner of the presidential election. Despite lost luggage, freezing temperatures (when she left L.A. it was around 80 degrees) and crowded trains, she told us, “There is nowhere I’d rather be.”
While the crowds inside the Metro were jovial and excited, those same revelers quickly became frustrated and irritable once they were outdoors, shivering in the cold and unable to enter the security checkpoints to the National Mall, where the swearing in ceremony would be broadcast live from the U.S. Capitol onto Jumbotrons.
Kenneth Nesbitt, a resident of Atlanta, wasn’t bothered by the cold. Laughing and joking with the Washington-area cousins that he was crashing with for the event, Kenneth said that he needed to be here for the inauguration.
“It’s history. It’s an opportunity to be at an event that really is a once in a lifetime event–to see something like this happen.”
Like many, Kenneth decided to celebrate in the nation’s capital immediately after Barack’s win.
“With Barack Obama being a Black man, he’s leading the country. I wanted to be here.”
Another Atlanta resident, Uwimana Gilbert, was traveling with seven friends and was just as happy to be among D.C.’s masses, despite setbacks with her travel and accommodations.
“My original plans fell through, so we are staying with friends that my friends knew. They opened up their home for seven people that they did not even know for eight days.”
As evidenced by the city residents’ willingness to make room for out-of-towners, Uwimana described her week in the city as “climactic.”
Adding, “Every day I can see the city swelling up. The streets have been getting fuller; the people were beginning to fill out the places and spaces.”
One resident, Vincent Thomps, was motivated by his son Joshua to attend the event.
“I’m a second generation Washington native, my son is a third generation Washington native, so we had to be down here. But at first I didn’t think it was that important, then my son said ‘Daddy, you got to go.’”
Those who made the trek were in good company: The Associated Press reports that more than 1 million people crowded onto Washington’s National Mall to witness Obama’s inauguration.
Joshua and Vincent Thomps
– Whitney Teal