January 20, 2009 by JSOnline — They walked, they joked, they jumped up and down in the cold, and when President Barack Obama gave his inaugural address, many cried.
Yes, that includes the men. Clifton Phelps, a Milwaukeean who attended Tuskegee University in Alabama, said the speech made him remember the efforts of African-American author and educator Booker T. Washington, who founded his school.
Simeon Henderson, who made the trip from Milwaukee, said he remembered his father talking about discrimination blacks experienced in Arkansas during the days of Jim Crow laws and said African-Americans now have more of a chance in life.
“Today, in 2009, we have the opportunity as a people to do something positive,” Henderson said.
Henderson and Phelps were two in a group of 43 Milwaukee churchgoers, community leaders and others who arrived on a bus in Washington before dawn to join more than 1 million spectators who crowded the National Mall to see Obama take the oath of office.
Some showed up with Bucky Badger blankets and ate breakfast on the grassy stretch known as the nation’s front lawn. They chanted Obama’s name. They held signs. They snapped photos.
And the partisan crowd booed whenever President George W. Bush’s image was shown on the screens that lined the National Mall.
The Milwaukee group members walked more than two miles to a spot near the Washington Monument to watch Obama’s swearing-in. From their vantage point, they heard Obama speak through banks of speakers, and if they looked really far, they could see Obama – on one of many big TV screens.
Yet the president’s words and the ascension of an African-American to the White House moved them. Many in the group said they were touched by Obama noting toward the end of his speech that it’s possible someone his father’s age would not have been served at certain restaurants in the past, but that he could be president.
Those who crowded on the bus changed plans and decided to wake up earlier to make the drive from a Pennsylvania hotel to Washington. They wanted to be here. A mistake along their bus route from Milwaukee made them more than two hours late to the hotel where they spent the night.
Cassandra Woods of Milwaukee, who also watched from near the Washington Monument, said the setting and speech made her reminisce about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“When I first walked here and saw the monument, it put me back to the teachings of King. It’s history in the making,” she said. “Now it’s actually here. It’s actually tangible.”
Cozette McLemore, who works with the Running Rebels Community Organization, a Milwaukee group that runs an intensive probation program for young offenders, said she was touched by the diversity of the crowd.