For thousands of celebrants, the day of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration started with a visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument, a chance to mark both Obama’s occasion and Martin Luther King Day.
But reaching the monument required avoiding several barricaded areas which made the journey longer than usual, but gave a feeling of accomplishment to those who found their way.
Many believed paying respect to the fallen Black leader who gave his life to freedom, justice and equality for all was the ultimate way to begin the historical event, said Muhammad Raqib, visiting from Ohio. “It brings chills down my spine to think how both events are culminated on this day.”
Olivia Murphy, 17, of Atlanta agreed.
“This is the single most important event I have ever witnessed in my life,” she said. “Just to see how Black people have evolved from slavery to the highest elected office in America is huge. Everybody is happy and getting along with each other. President Obama is a peaceful man, like Dr. King.”
The path from the U.S. Capitol to the White House was a virtual maze. Most areas required color-coded tickets where participants were screened through security. There were also a few checkpoints fenced in and guarded by law enforcement and armed force personnel from around the country. No food, folding chairs, backpacks, banners, sticks or sharp metal objects were allowed.
“I remember the second inauguration of President George Bush, when people threw tomatoes at his limo. After that, food was no longer allowed at the inaugural parade,” said Anise Jenkins, president and executive director of Stand Up! For Democracy and Statehood.
Crowds also gathered at the foot of the hill surrounding the Washington Monument. Hundreds lined up against the monument wall, while others stood on the lawn looking at a monitor that showcased the event from a distance, yet still allowed participants to enjoy the festivities without restrictions.
Taariq Mohammed and his family are from Charlotte, N.C., but moved to Virginia recently. They traveled to the inaugural event by river taxi from Alexandria, Va. “The whole event was very impressive. D.C. looked great and everything went smooth.”
If one could make it through the maze of checkpoints, three entrances to the event area were available to the public. Stacks of coffee cups, bottles of water and soda, and piles of fresh fruit—all discarded by celebrants at the direction of security—told the story of how seriously those sworn to protect the president took their job.
Tamrat Medhin, president of Little Ethiopia DC, an organization that promotes unity among Ethiopians and African-Americans, was one of the fortunate spectators who watched the event from the Capitol steps. He said the local and federal government went to great lengths to protect the president.
“It was an amazing event,” Medhin said. “We are hopeful that President Barack Obama will unite this country like never before.”
Others were hopeful that Obama addresses a longtime District problem.
“I was disappointed that Obama didn’t mention D.C. Statehood and our equality in his inaugural speech,” Jenkins said. “But I’m not giving up. As unequal citizens, it will be up to us to push the issue. But I was so hopeful…once we had a president who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth.”