Inauguration

1.4 million people came to my town today, to see history being made.  They crowded on Metro, parked their tour buses, walked for miles, and stood for hours in the cold to see the realization of Dr. King’s dream — of many, many, many dreams — come true today.  Sen. Barack Obama is now President Barack Obama.  Elected for the content of his character, not judged on the color of his skin, today we step back and marvel, and wonder at just how far we’ve come in the last 60 years.

Perhaps I can only speak for myself here.  I will.

I marvel.  I grew up in the Deep South, just after desegregation, surrounded by private schools that all mysteriously popped up in the same year, the year that the Mississippi schools were truly integrated.  I attended a neighborhood school, but half the students were bused in, from — literally — across the tracks, in neighborhoods not too far away but in some ways a different world.  The neighborhood around the school was full of professionals, and no one there ever went hungry, or needed a new pair of shoes their mother couldn’t buy.  Many of the kids who were bused in didn’t have those luxuries necessities, and we lined up each day, together, but in strata nonetheless — the kids who got free lunch lined up first, so the cafeteria ladies would know not to charge.  These were the kids who arrived late to class, dragging after a long commute and a quick (free) breakfast in the cafeteria.  There were differences, but we were kids, and we didn’t notice, most of the time.

I went to public schools in Jackson, Mississippi, my entire life, and it made an impact on me.

I grew up learning about the Civil Rights Movement, hearing history from social studies teachers who had marched, singing songs of protest and of strength, and learning about the delta blues from teachers who had grown up in segregated times and schools.  My classmates and I were conscious of the recent history of our state — of our city! — but we were convinced those days had passed.  We lived the dream of desegregation, of white children and black children (and the Tran boys) going to school together, walking hand in hand, and learning how to navigate the world together.

In eighth grade, I ran for Student Body President.  I ran a tough campaign, seeing my first chance at real leadership, and campaigned as hard as I could, within the rules, even though I didn’t agree with them.  You see, in those days, we had strict rules about who could win.  If a white kid won president, a black kid would be vice president, and then anyone could be secretary.  Two of my friends also ran, and we all rankled under the rules that we thought we were so far past.  Would we really have to live with this antiquated, grown-up-enforced rule?  We didn’t know the name for it yet, quota, or affirmative action, or even equality, but we rankled under it.  We proved something on our little Election Day, though.  The student body voted overwhelmingly for Chaka, and he became president.  Without quotas.  And the crowd went wild.

I’ve never been so happy to lose an election.   (Although there were others I wish I’d lost — but that’s a story for another day.)

Chaka, Jim, and I served happily that year as student body officers, and our actions proved the old rule outdated.

Of course, that was just our introduction to race-based rules — we would soon learn that  the class favorite designations for ninth-grade graduation came in pairs, with thinly linked names.  The top-voted boy and girl would get the top designation (like “most beautiful”), and the top-voted boy and girl of opposite race(s) would get a secondary kudo (like “cutest”).  I still don’t know who those rules were trying to protect, but they live on in my yearbook, awkwardly posed pictures of ninth graders in remarkably similar combinations of race and gender.

Today’s images of Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe and Jill Biden brought those pictures to mind again.  Only, once again, their success is OUR success, and their performance is proving the old way of thinking outdated.

It feels like a new time in America, a time when anything is possible.

A time when we can finally leave our past behind, and look to the future.

Anything is possible.

Congratulations, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and all the new leadership and staff.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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15 Responses to Inauguration

  1. Becki says:

    I had intended to have a little luncheon party to share the inauguration with friends, but wasn’t organized enough to put it together. I’m glad I wasn’t. Being home alone gave me the freedom to weep openly, with joy and hope.

  2. whymommy says:

    Beautiful comment, Becki. I had some friends with kids over (a mininauguration, if you will), but the time for reflection didn’t happen until naptime.

    The life of a mom!

  3. Donna W says:

    Yep, I’m proud of my country today. And I didn’t even vote for him.

    I love this country.

  4. ohgrammy says:

    Tears were part of the day for many of us, I think. What a journey. One of my favorite quotes came from a young woman who was asked if she wasn’t just terribly cold on this frigid day, and she said, “History is keeping me warm!”

  5. It was a historic day indeed with the inauguration of Barack Obama and now Obama will have to sit down and to tackle the problems facing the United States of America. The economy, oil, jobs and two wars will all be Obama’s focal points during his historic first 90 days in office. The changing of the guard will hopefully equal an end to the crisis.

  6. Judy says:

    Thank you for this.

    I was alone today too, watching the inauguration after my maintenance chemo. It was a very emotional day for me, coming on the heels of MLK Day. My parents used to march in the 60s and I used to listen to recordings of MLK’s on vinyls records from their record player.

    Just a lot in 2 days.

    I wish my father had been alive to see yesterday happen.

    I was pretty weepy yesterday. I’m still an idealist under my cynical posturing, and I still believe in the dream, if you will. I still believe we can be great. Imagine that!

    Anyways, I love hearing your stories of how you grew up. Thank you for sharing them.

    xo,
    Judy

  7. Susan K says:

    I am a Canadian, living in this country since 1988 (yikes!). I have married an American, given birth to two girls who are dual citizens by birth (and one by paper, gotta get a move on that other one).

    The election this November moved my father to WRITE me a letter! One of only (now) 3 I can remember from him. It was enthusiastic and moving and underscored what I knew – the vast majority of Canadians, this nation’s biggest trading partner, the sharer of the longest undefended border in the world, were thrilled for this nation and this new President.

    Yesterday I sat at home alone. Husband at work, 8 year old at school, watching with her classmates, and youngest at daycare. I had thought of coming up to DC, (had thought of coming up here to work too), but chose warmth and security (would the train really get me home in time for dinner??). So I sat, and watched, and wept. For this country, for how far it has come. For the fact that my child could not understand why this was so important (what do you mean a black man has never been president?). For the conversations we’ve had about prejudice – that is just a word to her. For the hope that soon, for all in this country, that will just be a word, a word people don’t use anymore, because no one really understands it. For Hope.

    And I noted with great pride, though the news commentators did not. When the President finally (FINALLY!) drove past the Canadian Embassy, on his way down PA Ave., to his new home. There on the steps, in the full dress red, a group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Saluting.

    Welcome Mr. President.

  8. whymommy says:

    That’s beautiful, Susan. Thank you for that. And the Canadian Embassy? Amazing.

  9. K says:

    You have the most amazing stories to tell.

    My kids go to an urban public school in which whites are the minority. It’s been a great experience for them. (And luckily, no “rules” like the ones you describe.) Yesterday, they came home from school completely in awe. It was very powerful for them, watching the speech with all of their non-white friends at school.

    So today, I’m cheering for Chaka and Obama! And everyone else! It’s a great day for our world!

  10. Amelie says:

    Thanks for sharing, whymommy.

  11. Hi Susan – your post says it all. I lived in Jackson from 1978 until 1982…we go back to visit (my husb’s) family from time to time. I was shocked at the both blatant, and veiled rascism then, and I am shocked at it now…all these years later. It lives on unfortunately. My scariest memory was going grocery shopping one Saturday morning and the Ku Klux Klanners were at a busy intersection coming up to cars and waving cans for monetary donations….all dressed up in their garb! Awful moment….try explaining *that* to a 2.5 year old!

  12. marty says:

    Funny, our history classes always “ran out of time” right before the Civil Rights Movement.

    And on Monday, Mississippi still celebrated both Martin Luther King, Jr. Day AND Robert E. Lee Day.

    Maybe they will take a step forward sometime in the next four years. I doubt it though.

  13. Kate says:

    Hope is a wonderful thing.

    I can’t wait to hear about your preschool celebration yesterday. I am a scientist mommy in the DC area-I hope that I get to meet you someday (in a non-stalky kind of way).

    Health and happiness in the New Year

  14. Adam says:

    I’m confused. Our 8th grade class, the one electing Chaka, was 60% black, so what are you saying? I mean, the outcome has the black guy winning, the white guy coming in second, and the white girl coming in last. And if I’m not mistaken, there were only 3 people running for 3 positions.

    So how does this outcome prove that the students, both black and white, were not voting along racial and/or gender lines?

    As to the biggest step forward MS can make, it is to stand up for the traditional family of a husband and wife in a lifetime, till-death-do-we-part, monogomous relationship. Currently 50% of all babies born in MS are not born into a two-parent family with the number of “fatherless” children in the black community being 75%. Children living in single parent homes are more likely to be involved with crime, drop out of school, go to prison. Having preached in the Hinds County Detention Center, when you ask how many of the men there grew up without fathers and nearly all raise their hand, the evidence is strikingly obvious that racism is not MS’s problem – it is a lack of adhering to the traditional family.

    Please feel free to delete this comment if you wish, but I’d like a little personal communication this time. Not hearing anything last time just plain hurt. That’s all I was discussing with Cliff.

  15. whymommy says:

    Clearly I’m not there now, and I don’t speak for now. It was just a memory.

    I’ve only ever deleted a couple comments from this blog, by the way (since you raise the issue) — one blamed me for getting cancer because I drank a diet coke or two, one was trying to sell hair loss creme, and one was insulting to a number of my readership — and friends.

    I’m happy to have everyone here, but I will not allow hateful or exclusionary comments on this blog.

    Sorry, friend.

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