This was no ordinary trip filled with travel, deals, hotels and restaurants, with offers of the best shops and clubs to visit and cultural events. No, this was a complete one day turn-around trip for NAACP members, friends, and supporters alike to be a part of our history.
We were cordially invited by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies Charles E. Schumer, Chairman, Harry Reid, Lamar Alexander John A. Boehner, Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi. The honor of our presence was requested at the ceremonies attending the Inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 21.
Preliminaries were in order before leaving Akron. There was an air of expectation as the Chaplin, Mr. Rump, prayed for “traveling mercy” as the bus driver played a safety message, the designated bus captains, Barberton Branch NAACP President John Nelson, and Akron Branch NAACP President Ophelia Averitt, were introduced.
The captains addressed the passengers, thanking them for participating in the momentous occasion; they also created a roster of the passengers and their phone numbers for emergency contact purposes once we arrived in Washington D.C.
We departed Akron Jan. 20, at 5:17 p.m. with anticipation, a renewed patriotic awakening, with alert watchful eyes, warm hearts full of excitement. A day like no other day filled with emotion, but on this day we “answered the call of history.”
Our first rest stop break to stretch our legs, get a snack and a bio break was in Oak Mount, Penn., at the Gateway Travel Lodge where we changed bus drivers from Dave Breckenridge to Arthur Walker, who introduced himself welcoming us all to the “Night Train” destination – Washington D.C. There we met fellow travelers from Detroit, who also were going to the Inauguration.
Workers at the Lodge, Heather Cline and Bill Wolfe, provided this Citizen Journalist with writing paper for note-taking to capture this historic moment in our nation’s history.
Strangers became friends and comrades along the way, taking group pictures of each other as we passed the time, talking telling each other what the inauguration of President Barack Obama meant to each other.
We saw and met other travelers a few miles outside of Pittsburgh at the Gateway Lodge and Restaurant in Pennsylvania, where our chartered bus stopped for a rest period for its passengers with the same destination, Washington D.C., with the same enthusiasm, purpose and mission as ours: to witness the climax of the unprecedented re-election victory of Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States of America to a second term in office.
Our second rest stop was in Breezeway, Penn. There we met several other chartered bus passengers on their way to the inauguration. After leaving the lodge parking lot, the sign on the highway read, “leaving Breezeway”; next stop — Washington D.C., 157 miles. After several miles, approaching Washington D.C., another sign read Democracy Boulevard. How fitting it seemed to witness democracy up close and personal.
Our focus was that of emotion, and to some it was about experiencing history of the inauguration of our second black president. But on this occasion, unlike like the inauguration in 2009, was enjoyed greater hope and expectation to see change that we truly can believe in through the prism of being heirs to the liberty and freedom our forefathers brought forth to this great nation, that all men are created equal.
We arrived in Washington D.C. at Robert F. Kennedy Football Stadium, home of the Washington Redskins, and entered a massive chartered bus parking zone, at 5 a.m. The moment we had all had been waiting for had finally happened in the pre-dawn early morning hours of Jan. 21.
Before disembarking from the charter bus parking lot, area volunteers issued each passenger a wrist band indicating the location of the bus (Lot 7-M) to help them find their way back to the bus, and distributed to each passenger an Inauguration Day map with general information and instructions regarding prohibited items as a security precaution for the Inaugural Parade route and the Capital Building viewing stand. Those with special needs or who were handicapped were given special assistance via shuttles to the National Mall area.
We were also given safety tips, to note our surroundings, note our bus number and location, an agreed upon meeting time back to the bus, and the use of a buddy system to make sure one’s “seatmate” makes it back to the bus. Those who attended the inauguration in 2009 noted these preparations were extremely helpful to current guest attending the inauguration where such details were overlooked in 2009.
We were given a few additional instructions from the NAACP organizers, President John Nelson and President Ophelia Averitt, our bus captains, to an agreed upon time to meet back at the bus, also informing us all of the Swearing—In Ceremony time, and security checkpoints were open to ticked guest at 7 a.m. The musical prelude would begin at 10 a.m.
Not wanting to miss the events, saying our goodbyes to fellow passengers, we walked to get the shuttle after sunrise. Our time had come!
“We were made for this moment.”
At the national mall
As we walked toward the mall, taking pictures, looking at street signs we were confident everything would go well, not getting lost as this excited Citizen Journalist and her husband ventured out into the cold D.C. weather.
Crammed onto a shuttle, we were dropped off on 7th and Frontier streets, walking in the same direction as several hundred others diligently in a rush to get to the Capitol seeing street vendors selling souvenirs (i.e., inaugural T-shirts, caps, buttons and programs); yelling out their prices to pedestrians hurriedly passing by. Seeing the hustle and bustle as thousands continued the trek to get to the Capitol Building before 11:30 a.m. because late arrivals wouldn’t be able to enter the grounds.
Military staffed Red Cross Tents, and other Check Point Tents for those overcome by the weather or exhaustion were stationed on various street corners en route to the ceremony. The Army National Guard was also on duty directing pedestrians or patrolling in their Humvees; also present were Homeland Security vehicles seen cruising down streets closed to public access. Sharpshooters could easily be seen on building rooftops armed with high powered weapons.
Most importantly, everything was peaceful without incident.
We walked from Jefferson Drive to 4th Street, entering the Public Ceremony viewing area. Wow, what a view; it was breath-taking to see the United States Capitol Building looming to the Northeast, and the towering Washington Monument daunting the skyline to the Southwest directly behind us.
We arrived at the National Mall before time to see the Joint Congressional Committee arrive at about 9 a.m., including the invited guests of dignitaries, politicians and celebrities enter the seating area as the theme of the 57th Inaugural Ceremonies was read, “Faith in America’s Future.”
The mall was swept up with a deluge of people, including celebrities and actors. Talk show hosts kept the guest entertained via the huge jumbotrons situated several yards apart aligning the path from the Capitol Building for viewers to see close-up the activities at the Capitol to the National Mall. A massive sea of people extended all the way to the Washington Monument!
We were greeted upon arrival by volunteers wearing inaugural red ski caps, not as tourists who just so happened to be visiting the Nation’s Capital, rather as honored guests. They welcomed us as concierges of luxury hotels would. This was the moment.
Nothing was more profound than when the Red Cap Inaugural Concierges distributed thousands and thousands of flags.
We the people waved our flags high and proud with cheers of joy and excitement screaming and yelling. The sound of over a million people (estimate) was deafening but well worth the excitement and jubilation. There was a sense of joy, triumph and elation among the spectators.
It wasn’t unusual to see people dressed in patriotic attire, or standing hovering, shivering from the cold winds. Some were indeed “huddled masses”; others were freestanding out in the open without winter garments freezing in a distance along the perimeter of the Mall.
Concession stands provided coffee, hot chocolate and other food items to keep attendees warm and nourished.
When the First Family arrived, gushing cheers erupted as onlookers in anticipation of the President’s arrival taking the oath of office sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts. Seeing Pres. Barack Obama raise his right hand while Michelle held Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Bible, tears streamed down many faces, including mine, as he was sworn into office for a second term with the final words prescribed in the oath he swore to uphold, “So help me God.”
We the people, despite the cold, blowing wind and near freezing temperatures, braved the elements to witness a spectacular moment in our American history to share with future generations alike.
We realized returning home profound words of the President’s inaugural speech rings out mutual truth, “Our journey is not complete.”