EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2009

Obama's inauguration brings cheers and tears of joy

Local residents witness history in Washington

By Crystal Bozek

It was a moment people will remember for decades, whether they stood cheering with the masses on the National Mall or sat in an office on Main Street.

"We stood in the street listening to Barack speak," said Andover native Danielle Johnson, 19, who was in Washington, D.C., for yesterday's inauguration. "There were so many people very excited, cheering, crying, but when he spoke, it was quiet, very serious."

At midday, millions across the country — and the world — stopped what they were doing to watch Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office to become the 44th president of the United States.

Not only is Obama the nation's first black president, he also is entering office with one of the highest approval ratings of any incoming president. Expectations also are high as the country deals with a recession and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama's message of change that led him to victory over Republican John McCain last November was still there yesterday, but had a more somber note of responsibility attached to it.

Obama called on the country to join him and Vice President Joe Biden in "remaking America" by ushering in "a new era of responsibility."

"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," Obama told the more than 1 million people who descended upon the capital. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."

Obama, 47, a Democrat and former Illinois senator, took over the presidency from Republican George W. Bush, with both men embracing at the Capitol and walking out together.

Interestingly, Bush wore a blue tie, the Democrat's color, while Obama wore Republican red.

Lincoln's Bible

Moments before delivering his inaugural address, Obama placed his left hand on Abraham Lincoln's inaugural Bible, raised his right hand and took the oath of office in front of a sea of people that stretched more than a mile along the National Mall.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly," Obama said. "This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

Not everything went off without a hitch.

Chief Justice John Roberts got a phrase out of order when leading Obama in the 35-word oath, causing both men to fumble through the first couple of words.

In the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire, students sat in front of televisions for the inaugural speech, some standing up and reciting the oath with the president. College students played hooky to hear the speech. Anywhere you went from senior centers to gyms, restaurants to office buildings, Obama was who was on.

Tuskegee Airman wept

Many stayed home, extending their long weekend, glued to their televisions.

Luther McIlwain, 87, a black navigator with the elite Tuskegee Airmen, said he cried as he watched from his Methuen home for more than six hours straight, starting at 7 a.m. He and other Tuskegee Airmen were invited to the inauguration, but he was not able to attend due to health issues.

"I just got through crying out of happiness and joy," McIlwain said. "It's been a wonderful day because I've lived long enough to see what I thought I'd never see after all the barriers, insults and rejections I went through in my teens and 20s.

"The only drawback is how long we had to wait and some of my buddies are not here to see it, which tears my heart," he said.

Reuben Parker, 88, of Andover, was one of the dozens to watch over lunch at the Andover Senior Center.

"It means things will never be the same," said Parker, whose great-grandparents were Ethiopian and worked as slaves on Virginia plantations. "It will be better now for everybody. Now anyone can be president. The race barrier is over."

Even those with busy jobs took a moment or two to catch a piece of history.

Patty Doherty, 39, of Derry, who works at a hospital, wasn't able to watch the inauguration, but agreed it was a historic moment.

"I think people really stood still when they could," Doherty said. "I work at a hospital, but I think everyone should have taken the time to watch it if they were able to."

T-Bones on Crystal Avenue in Derry played the inauguration on its lounge TV after several customers requested it.

"Typically, we play sports," T-Bones dining room director Andre Morris said. "But we took a break from that to play the inauguration and put the volume up. Everyone in the lounge seemed really interested."

Local residents who were able to make it down to Washington, D.C., were still in the moment hours after the celebration had ended.

'One big, happy country'

Methuen attorney Linda Harvey described the scene as the best example of "organized chaos" she ever witnessed.

"There are all different kinds of people here. Rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, single parents, couples, people in wheelchairs," she said.

Harvey brought her two daughters, Maxine, who turned 13 yesterday, and Talia, 9, to the nation's capital.

"It was really like we're one big, happy country," Harvey said while on her way back home last night. "When I was walking to the train tonight I saw a homeless man on the corner and I got a little reality check. I thought the world is not fixed. There's still work to do."

Despite economic worries, 72 percent of Americans surveyed by Gallup believe the country will be better off four years from now with Obama at the helm.

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who watched the inauguration with her 11-year-old son Sam in a Senate hearing room in the Capitol, said Obama's speech resonated with her, especially when he said the country cannot put off difficult decisions any longer.

"There was a couple hundred people in one hearing room, packed as tight as can be, cheering, laughing," she said. "There was a real sense of being a part of history."

A chorus of boos greeted the introduction of Bush and his outgoing vice president, Dick Cheney, who was in a wheelchair. "Na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye," some people chanted.

Johnson said people wanted change, and Obama's speech did not disappoint, with promises to befriend countries that want peace, and unite people of all races and religions.

"I think people are happy to see Bush go, and I think we're hopeful for what Barack can do," she said. "Now it's time to get to work."

Staff reporters Jarret Bencks, Yadira Betances, Jill Harmacinski, Brian Messenger and Emily Moffett contributed to this report.

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