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Soon, the Mall was so packed it was hard to move. Inching through the crowd, we came upon Little Rock civil rights activist Johnny Hasan, who was standing below one of the Jumbotrons with his friend Odessa Darrough. Hasan said that he was in Washington in the 1990s for the inaugurations of his friend Bill Clinton, and was excited and proud to be there for what he jokingly called "The Second Coming of Obama."
"He fought the fight, and he established those things that were possible which were possible with the opposition he had," Hasan said. "This term, he's going to have to do an even better job of negotiating with those who oppose his policies, but that's the goal of any president. His legacy will be a part of the history of America."
Hasan said that Obama's election and re-election proved we are finally embracing the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
"The challenge is that people are judged by the content of the character, according to Dr. Martin Luther King," Hasan said. "In America, Obama represents the manifestation of that. The moment we're celebrating today is also Dr. Martin Luther King's holiday. So in my opinion, the content of his character was what brought him to be the leader he is, for the free world."
Darrough said she wanted to be part of the day to help Obama know that the country is ready to support him in making a difference. She rated his first term as excellent.
"We elected him not only because he's African-American," Darrough said, "but because of everything else he brings to the table: intellect, caring, loving, wanting to bring the United States back to the top, where we were in the past. With him as the chief leader of our country, we will get there."
Unable to budge by then without stepping on toes, Brian and I stood there near Hasan and Darrough as the dignitaries came to the podium, the crowd cheering the First Family and offering up a chorus of boos for House Speaker John Boehner and Congressman Eric Cantor. And when Obama appeared — soon to be sworn in on the Bibles of Lincoln and MLK, and to declaim: "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still" — such a cheer rose from the assembled million that I would not have believed the sound of it had we not been there.
One America, two men
There is more to the story, of course, but I'll let Brian's photos say the rest. The story is: we were there, and saw it done, and laid down that night glad to have seen it.
The next morning, we were up again before daybreak. With the bus idling at the curb in front of the hotel, ready to swallow another full day of our lives in exchange for having seen the previous day's events, I talked to Lloyd and Kellie Noble of Pine Bluff — other members of the extended Noble family.
"I wanted my kids to have the experience," said Kellie, who works as a kindergarten teacher, "to be able to say: I went to Washington, D.C. Not only do they get to read about it in history books, they get to say they were actually here."
Lloyd, Kellie's husband, owns a small construction company, and attended the inauguration in 2008. He said the inauguration felt different this time — more hopeful, like change is finally happening. Obama's re-election proves that color is gone, he said, and that we're finally ready to become the One America that Martin Luther King talked about.
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