Local Politics

Tar Heels travel to witness historic inauguration

Posted January 19, 2009 8:16 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The crowds began gathering in the nation's capital over the weekend in anticipation of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration on Tuesday.

More than 2 million people were expected to withstand temperatures below freezing and a chance of snow flurries to witness the swearing-in on the National Mall. They'll contend with a noon high of 32 degrees.

Almost 500,000 started the celebration with song and dance Sunday, enjoying a celebrity-filled concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Actors, singers, athletes and then Obama himself rallied the crowd. Performers on the bill included Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce and James Taylor.

Ronald and Paula Divers brought their four children from Charlotte to the event.

"We just came out here to be a part of this historical event," Ronald Divers said.

"It's history in the making. We didn't want to miss it," Paula Divers said. "I think it means a lot to everyone, not just to African-American communities, to be out here. This is change that we are all seeking."

Many in the crowd noted the dual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday Monday and the inauguration Tuesday. They said it was King's efforts decades ago that allowed Obama to be in the position to claim the presidency.

"Really, it's a dream come true because, for one thing, you remember the hurt (of segregation)," said Francine Brown, a Fayetteville resident attending the inauguration events. "You remember when people couldn't walk together.

"I didn't think I would live to see this coming. I thought, maybe, way in the future, but it's just a blessing that it's happening now," Brown said. "It just shows the change in America."

Bruce Lightner hitchhiked to Washington in 1963 to hear King speak. This week, the co-chairman of Raleigh's Martin Luther King Celebration Committee plans to take a bus to hear Obama. He has been planning the trip for months.

"During the early part of the spring, I started getting a sense that Obama was going to be victorious, so I started looking at the inauguration," Lightner said.

He ordered two buses to make the trip.

"Within a 30-day period of time, it became clear we needed to organize it statewide," he said.

Lightner's group filled 30 buses with more than 1,700 people paying $150 each to travel from North Carolina to Washington for the inauguration.

The convoy left Raleigh at about 11:30 a.m. and arrived in Bowie, Md., outside the capital, at about 5 p.m., avoiding much of the traffic that had been predicted in advance of the inauguration. One rider said the relatively quick trip was a present from King to those wishing to experience the inauguration firsthand.

The group included a 90-year-old man traveling with his nurse – he made the trip over his son's objections – and others who said they were proud to be able to witness history.