WASHINGTON, D.C. – In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and forever changed the course of American history.
On Tuesday, Jan. 20, President Barack Obama placed his hand on the same Bible that Lincoln used during his swearing in, and made history again as he took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American commander-in-chief.
“I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you’ve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors,” Obama said during his inaugural address.
“Today, we gather because we’ve chosen hope over fear…Starting today we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America…We are ready to lead once more.”
Obama is the first president to use Lincoln’s Bible at an inauguration since it was first used in 1861.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office. Millions braced the cold and lined the National Mall to watch the swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, with many South Floridians in attendance to witness the historic event.
“I think it was awe inspiring,” said Bradford Brown, first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. “I think it’s going to go down as one of the greatest we’ve ever had.”
Brown woke up at 4 a.m. to be prepared for the traffic heading to the National Mall, he said. He arrived at the gates at 7 a.m., and although he had tickets to the inauguration, he did not get inside until about 11 a.m. due to the chaos, he said.
Miami attorney Marlon Hill, who was one of the 27 electors for Obama from Florida under the Electoral College system, also had tickets to the inauguration. The ceremony, he said, was a special moment for America and for the renewal of the country’s core values.
“He not only spoke to America, but to the rest of the world,” Hill said.
Suzan McDowell, a member of the Miami chapter of Women for Obama, also had tickets to the inauguration, but because of the large crowds of people, she was not able to get through the gates or even watch the ceremony from one of the many large screens on the Mall.
“I didn’t get to go to anything,” McDowell said through tears.
The ceremony included an invocation by Dr. Rick Warren and musical performances by Aretha Franklin, The United States Marine Band, The San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
African-American poet Elizabeth Alexander, who is also a professor of African-American studies at Yale University, recited a poem.
“Praise song for struggle, praise strong for the day,” Alexander said. “In today’s sharp sparkle winter air, anything can be made…on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp. Praise song for walking forward in that light.”
Following Obama’s inaugural address, civil rights icon the Rev. Joseph Lowery delivered the benediction.
“And as we leave this mountain top, let this us keep this fellowship with us,” Lowery said.
The ceremonies concluded with the national anthem performed by the United States Navy Band, “Sea Chanters.”
For the first time ever, the length of the entire National Mall was opened to the public to allow more people than ever before to witness the swearing in of the president. People who did not receive tickets to the swearing in were able to watch and listen to the ceremony on large screens provided by the Presidential Inaugural Committee along the Mall.
“It was wonderful. It was outstanding,” said Trenise Davis, 50, a Miami resident who watched the ceremony from a screen on the Mall.
“We were all overwhelmed,” she said, as she boarded a subway en route to the parade.
Davis won two tickets to travel to D.C. on a bus trip hosted by Hot 105 FM.
Other South Floridians opted to bypass the commotion and watch the swearing-in ceremony from other D.C. spots.
Freddie Young, a former Miami-Dade elementary school principal, watched the inaugural ceremonies from the ballroom at the Willard Hotel in D.C.
“This is so exciting,” she said of Obama’s address. “I was just overwhelmed.”
The swearing-in ceremony preceded the inaugural luncheon at the Capitol and the 2009 Inaugural Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Although Young did not have tickets to the parade, she was excited to be a part of it, she said.
The majority of the parade route was free and open to the public for standing-room access.
The celebration continued into the night with 10 official inaugural balls, including the Southern Inaugural Ball, featuring guests from Florida and other southern states.
Inaugural events will conclude Wednesday with the National Prayer Service held at the Washington National Cathedral, where President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, dignitaries and Americans of diverse faiths will join together for prayer, readings and musical performances.
The service is by invitation only and tickets are required.
“So it has been. So it must be,” Obama said to the sizeable crowd that stood before him, attempting to restore faith in the nation he now holds securely in his hands.
“My soul is free now,” said Quincy Thurman, 34, of Frankford, Kentucky. Thurman arrived in D.C. by bus. Having a black man as president changes everything in his eyes, he said. “Real freedom.’’
Such was the case for many black Americans who were among the more than one million people who gathered at The National Mall Tuesday morning.
By 7 a.m., certain Metro stations had momentarily closed down due to overcrowding, and entry points near the U.S. Capitol were at capacity. Other people had to enter further west. The
Red Line train shut down entirely for a short while after a woman fell onto the tracks, as reported by the Metro News service.
“I’ve never seen this many people in the same place for a common cause,” said Pastor George Mints, 46, of Americas, Ga., who stood among the crowd. Mints runs the Zion Hope Baptist Church. “Everyone’s at peace. I see the spirit of hope.”
The event was marked with optimism, cheers and friendly hugs from strangers (even as crowds waited in the frigid cold). But the mood quickly took a nosedive as former President George W. Bush entered on the Capitol steps.
“Booo-ush! Booo-ush! Booo-ush!” the crowd yelled. Later, another close-up of Bush flashed on the screen. The crowd went into song: “Nah nah nah nah. Nah nah nah nah. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye.”
President Obama’s speech, however, brought gravity to the rather joyous and playful occasion. While the same tone of hope and change from Obama’s campaign rang clear in his inauguration speech, he also uttered a graver call for self-accountability.
“Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” Obama said. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”
Obama stressed “we” several times as a way to gather the American community in a slow but steady step forward, and he emphasized a need for citizens to believe in themselves and each other.
“Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights,” he said to a silent crowd. “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.”
The crowd cheered.
Obama continued: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord…”
The president concluded: “Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”
W.Sessa@UMiami.edu; J.Farmer1@UMiami.edu; RochelleOliver@Hotmail.com
Editor’s Note: Whitney Sessa and Jenna Farmer are graduate students of journalism at the University of Miami. They submitted this story as part of the U/Miami News Service. Rochelle Oliver is a freelance writer for the South Florida Times.
AP Photo/Chuck Kennedy, Pool. Barack Obama, left, takes the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts, not seen, as his wife, Michelle, holds the Lincoln Bible at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20.