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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 01/15/2009

What Does Inauguration Mean for You?

By Marisa Katz

By David Nicholson

My grandfather saved things -- church committee records, minutes from the local chapter of his college alumni association, and complete editions of The Washington Post and The Evening Star from Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration.

Which is how I know, after reading the brown and flaking pages, that compared to Barack Obama’s pending bridge-closing, security-conscious inaugural, Eisenhower’s was a more modest affair.

The crowd at his swearing-in was estimated at 125,000, and it was only the second to be televised. About 750,000 watched the parade, then the largest inaugural crowd ever. After the parade -- The Post said it went on “into the darkness” -- some 14,000 celebrated at two (yes, two!) balls. The next day, officials at Union Station reported that trains had been jammed with at least 140,000 passengers.

I’m not sure exactly why my grandfather saved the newspapers about Eisenhower’s inauguration. A District resident, he was interested in politics and current events; the papers he left contain hundreds of crumbling clippings. And he had a keen enough sense of the historic to take his children to Marian Anderson’s concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Easter Sunday 1939, and then later that same year to witness the first visit to the United States by a British monarch, when King George VI came to Washington at Roosevelt’s invitation. Yet my aunts and uncles say he never took them to an inaugural parade.

Perhaps the reason he saved the papers is as simple as this: He was born in 1883, 20 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, so while he had no direct experience of slavery, he was close enough to it to have heard stories told by men and women who themselves had been slaves. Like many black people of his generation, he believed black Americans owed a debt to Lincoln and the Republican Party. That belief represents a kind of old-fashioned faith in America, a faith that, sad to say, wasn’t always rewarded in my grandfather’s life.

He retired after 34 years in government service, ending as a General Services Administration electrician. He had a college degree -- a memo he wrote recommending changes in lighting at the GSA is a model of clarity and economy -- but he was a black man in a white world. For years he did the work of a master electrician, without the title or the pay, watching whites he’d trained get promoted over him.

Still, he kept his faith, and before he died in 1956, he saw all eight of his children finish high school, seven attend college (six graduated), and one receive a master’s degree.
As he carefully folded and put away his copies of The Post and The Star, my grandfather could scarcely have imagined that 56 years later a black man would be elected president of the United States. Yet in ways I can’t quite articulate, it’s precisely because of his struggle, his sacrifice and his faith in America, that we can eagerly anticipate the history-making inauguration of Barack Obama.

I’ve set aside my own copies of the newspapers with the news of Obama’s election and I’ll be keeping those about the inaugration. Maybe, just maybe, in 56 years, my own grandson will come across them and reading about how amazed we were, appreciate the significance. And wonder what all the fuss was about.

By Marisa Katz  | January 15, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration, Inauguration  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: What Does the Inauguration Mean for D.C.?
Next: What Inaugural Moments Will You Remember?


Wow, it would be neat if people could get past skin color in the media. If truth be relative..... the 50% white & 43.25% Arab(w/3Muslim names) actually trumps the nominal Negro in BHO(< 7%). The lack of accomplishments & political courage strike me only a little less than the free pass the msm still give his appointments, personal past associations & gaffes way too numerous to list. Content of character is different from the lofty platitudes of rhetoric. All talk; zero history of action. Period. THE quality missing from the entire package( i.e. transition team & cabinet) is integrity. All have stains that would end a Republican or a Conservative career. Is there one promise left not already changed since the primary?Hope he changes the "Black Genocide" which kills 300% more blacks than whites per capita in this Nation. Abortion is the #1 killer in Human history. Just some thoughts in my meditation today concerning this new political Era. With respect, Bill from the hills.

Posted by: billstoobox | January 16, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

"Inauguration" means A New Beginning. Specifically, it is a politically-related term, but in the light of the present circumstances, (hey, when it finally happened, it happened Big-Time...) the traditionally defined categories: Politics/Society/Economy/Culture/Art/Religion/Children/Teenagers/Adults/Friends/Adversaries/Fun/Duty/Happiness/Failure/Brilliance/Contingency/Neccesity...overcame the dividedness that seemed, and still seems to some "UnTrue Believers", to be the Way.

Your father was fortunate to have the opportunity to retire from a job in public service, and to have the transcendent vision to see his children succeed, despite the incomplete racial dichotomy.

Culture is a "gradual process". But as an intention, we are inspired to achieve what always appears at the moment to be somewhat beyond our immediate grasp.

I am happy to have the kind of understanding that many would not immediately associate with either my ostensive bearing, or the color of my skin.

in a practical sense, we have george w. bush's performance in office to thank for the arrival of obama, who appears to possess the intelligence and manner of a creative person who can help to restore a forward-looking perspective. I speak here personally, never having had the opportunity, nor, for that matter, the internal intention, come to think of it, to "retire" from anything...

Posted by: blue_tarp | January 16, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

I cannot help but wonder what my mother would have thought about the swearing in of our next president. She was born in the south but forced to come to DC in 1931 to find a job.

Strange that she would find an apartment down at 25th and K St in northwest DC. It was more black than white even in the 1930s, I still remember growing up and sometimes making reference to a "colored lady" Mother would be quick to correct me by saying that I really meant "colored woman.: In her mind, blacks were never ladies.

She was proof that you can take a person out of the South, but you cannot take the South out of a person. I pray that things are changing.

And why Mr. Obama now? I agree with the statement that George W Bush has had a hand in causing it to happen. Maybe a wrong (or a bunch of wrongs) can make a right.

Posted by: foggybottomJohn | January 17, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

11/5/08, after the historic presidential election of 11/4/08:

Out of Mordor

The long dark night is over
It’s safe to come out now.
The forces of tolerance, rationality, roll-up-your-sleeves problem-solving, have won.
Vanquished are the mean small taunts
Of division and accusation
Of Us and Them
The guide has emerged to lead of out of darkness.

Individual inspirations abound
Voters emerged from their TV induced fog
And said hey waitaminute
You can’t have this country
It’s ours all of us
And you are ruining it
So I will do something
I have never done before
And it’s a little scary and feels uncomfortable
But I’ll do it because it really matters
Yes, I’ll stand in line
As long as it takes
And lay my small stone on the pile
Along with yours and those of people I don’t know
Who all agree it’s time for a change.

And I will watch to see if the new guy does his job,
And I will do what I can to help
Because fixing the world
Is a full-time life-long job
For everyone.

Posted by: ruthsacks | January 17, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

King of Kings
by Robert H. Olander

Were you there when they marched us to the ship?
Were you there when they chained us to a rock?
Were you there when the master used his whip?
Were you there when they stood us on the block?
Were you there when the Angels spread their wings?
Were you there when we sought a king of kings?
Were you there when Abe Lincoln freed the slaves?
Were you there when the carpet baggers came?
Were you there when we still hid out in caves?
Were you there when the lynch mobs ruled in shame?
Were you there when the Angels spread their wings?
Were you there when we sought a king of kings?
Were you there when Brother King gave his speech?
Were you there when he saw the promised
Were you there when the ways of peace he'd teach?
Were you there when they killed him out of hand?
Were you there when the Angels spread their wings?
When we knew we'd soon have our king of kings?
Were you there when Obama took the stand?
When we knew we had reached the promised land?
Were you there when the fathers long since dead?
Could rejoice for the shackles now were shed?
Were you there when the Angels spread their wings?
Were you there when they crowned a king of kings?

Robert H. Olander
5863 Doris Drive
Alex. VA 22311

Posted by: bobolander | January 18, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

I'm a first generation American and have lived in the US with my family for over 20 years and never have i seen my parents have tear in their eyes at the announcement of a new president as it happened for Obama. Now, all they speak of is his inauguration. My parent never really got over the culture change that accompanied our move to the US. Even after becoming US citizens. But things changed as we all know and now they love US politics and they feel the inauguratin is also a re-birth for them.

A few nights ago I walked into a DC bar and there was some type of small networking event going on for a group called "districtfile". They're some type of political networking group. They invited me to join their table and one of the members spoke about the re-birth of our nation and I's happening across the US.

Posted by: williamalonso | January 18, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: timeparticle | January 18, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Okay, call me a cynic when I say "Support Your Local Police State". I was at the "We are One" concert on the Mall today, and I had a poster which said "U.S. Out of Iraq." I wrapped the poster around a trunk of a tree on the Washington Monument grounds. A cop (Park Police) took it down and stated "posting is illegal, I can give you a citation for that". I said fine, "let me hold it in my hands," to which he responded "no, you can't do that". I then said, "what happened to freedom of speech," and he answered "do you want to be arrested". At that point I realized he was a jerk and there was no point in further discussing the issue. He closed by sarcastically saying "thanks for negotiating with me on this." As soon as he turned his back, I courageously showed my middle finger and muttered curses under my breath. Nobody in the crowd said a thing, or came to my defense. I have been a consistent supporter of Obama and change, but I will believe it when I see it. As Pete Townsend of The Who sang, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss ... we don't get fooled again."

Posted by: cscottblair | January 18, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Inauguration means change has come to America. The first African-American president in US! This is an exited moment. President-elect Barack Obama has used all his forces to make sure that the color of men and women in the United States is not a factor counteracting his message to the American people. He used the racial diversity as an asset in the United States, not as a disability. He managed to put that diversity in a momentum that embraces all hopes seemed lost.

His famous rhetoric “there is not a bleu America, there is not a red America. There is the United States of America” covers widely his conception of a unified America, from to the step one to the political sphere. This is the rebirth of America initiated through the efforts of previous generations but completed by the brave men and women of today. This is a new day, new America. The dream of Martin Luther King became a reality. The dream of the founders of America is still alive. The two phrases ‘Change we can believe in! Yes we can’ have been central in Obama's message during the campaign and they did make sense. Yes change is coming to America

Posted by: mamoudoukouyate | January 19, 2009 5:57 AM | Report abuse

It means almost all groups have been invited to the table as equal partners in moving our nation forward. Except the gays. The Obama transition team agreed with HBO that Bishop Gene Robinson's invocation would not need to be part of their evening presentation. Hence it was not broadcasted.

Posted by: nhnh | January 19, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse


Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He swears to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!!

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 19, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I recently visited our nations capital. I was there prior to the election and the feeling of electricity was in the air.
As this was the first time that I had been in D.C., I was in awe of it all.
My father is a veteren so I have always had a sense of pride for the USA but this trip made it 'real'.
Having watched the events on tv, the abundant feeling of pride is overwhelming. I can not remember a time that the American dream has seemed to be so close.
I never in my lifetime ever thought that I would see an African American in the White House. I never thought that I would see a woman on the ticket either. I am thrilled that this historical event has happened and that 4 generations of my family will witness this great time.
This experience has been such a gift to me as it has risen an interest in our country for me and allowed me to learn and to appreciate the history that our country has to offer. This is truly a great place to live and I am so proud to be an American.

Posted by: alaskawestie | January 20, 2009 12:38 AM | Report abuse

I wanted to don my long taffeta skirt with black tulle overlay and embedded silver sparkles to go to an inaugural ball. But instead, I opted to wear black leggings and a fanciful neck scarf to forge the Potomac and attend an inauguration party at the home of a friend. We took the journey from Maryland to Virginia, avoiding the crowds, to attend a brunch with fellow government employees and watch the swearing in of President Barack Obama on a wide screen television. Did I have a twinge of guilt about not joining the glitz and glamour of an inaugural ball or braving the cold to witness this historic inauguration in person? Yes. But as someone who goes to the District five days a week to work, I rarely go back into the city on weekends. Weekends are reserved for family. And this weekend was no exception with my nephew’s bar mitzvah and my husband’s birthday on January 20th.

Last Wednesday, my office celebrated the service of 20 political appointees with cake and homemade desserts. On Friday, we said tearful good-by’s. This Wednesday, we welcome the new people with wide-eyed anticipation of a new perspective, but knowing that it will build on what has gone before. That is the beauty of a federal system: Federalist 10 is played out every time with the melding and mellowing of politics and practice to get the job done for the people.

That is the glory of being a federal employee. When the hoopla has died down, the corsage is crushed under a stiletto heel, and the rhinestone earrings lie scattered on the dresser top, my celebration is in knowing that I and my colleagues will have the honor of serving this president, day-to-day for the next four years. Ours will not be an inaugural party for a few days, but an integral part of history as we spend the next four years working for him.

Posted by: jcdorfman | January 21, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

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