It Almost Didn’t Happen, But Thank God It Did: an Uppity Negro Inauguration Story Part One


How does one really write about the inauguration and really capture the moment?

Seriously, what does even a reporter begin to sit down at their laptop and submit the leading story on or the Washington Post about the inauguration and really capture the moment, not some file story where they “insert date” and “insert name.”

Seeing as how I got teary eyed as Wolf Blitzer called the presidency for Obama, and by the time David Gergen had quoted Martin Luther King’s “Mountaintop” speech, I let the tears flow freely, I expected to be emotional when “the moment” would come.  But more on that later.

1232447249871At 4:45, I received the call to wake up and me and two of the teenaged girls were picked up by the parents to be taken to the Shady Grove Red Line Metro[rail] station in Gaithersburg.  It was like 20 degrees outside, and by the time we came around the curve there was a line of cars about 1/2 mile long stretching onto I-370 trying to park at 5:15 in the morning.  We tumbled out, I bought an early edition Post and busted out my Obama stamped farecard and pushed into the throngs of people that had completely overwhelmed the station.  In the time it took us to get upstairs, two trains had fully boarded, and even when we got up to the platform, the station lights were flashing signaling another train was ready to board and head back downtown.

And of course I got a seat.

The train rocked and reeled through Rockville and Bethesda and the rest of Montgomery County (MoCo) and one dude even got motion sick–we kinda laughed at him on the slick.  One woman, under 30 was complaining about having to work, and hollered rudely when her stop came “I GOT TO WORK!  I’M HEADED OFF THE TRAIN!!  I HAVE TO WORK TODAY!” and as soon as she got off someone quipped “She must have voted for Sarah Palin,” and the train laughed a sluggish “it’s 5:30 and the butt crack of dawn” laugh and resumed talking amongst various small groups.

The train more or less unloaded into a virtually empty Metro Center by 6am and we were fully prepared to follow the instructions of having to exit the station and re-enter in order to transfer to the Blue/Orange line.  

See, what had happened was…

….we had tickets.

In fact we had blue tickets.  

That meant that we had to go to south of Capitol Hill and enter from that side.  In fact, we planned to get off the train at Capitol South as Smithsonian and Federal Center weren’t quite close enough.  So, as we transferred to a train where EVERYONE on the train had taken off their jackets and some women  got their funeral home church fan wave going with random magazines and papers because the HEAT on that car was on HELL!  And then I was ready to pop a blood vessel because when the train got to an empty Capitol South station, the doors didn’t open forcing us to get off three blocks east at Eastern Market.  We just wanted to get off the train because it was soooooo friggin hot!

There were people outside hocking their wares–including that bootleg program that looked like it had been mass produced in someone’s basement–along with buttons and shirts.  We walked back west toward the Capitol and one of the girls in our group–let’s call her Becky–said that we could stop in one of the House buildings to use the bathroom and warm up.  Now, personally, I wasn’t really cold–don’t get me wrong, this was DEFINITELY a cold day, and the slight breeze was not helping it.  But, it wasn’t a frigid day like the cold the country had experienced a week before.  But, one must understand that Becky had on some pajama pants that were a BRIGHT lime green, and a pink and blue colored parka with just a tshirt on underneath.

Now do you think she was cold?

Not to mention Becky wears red glasses and donned a brown and blue hat–well at least her head was warm.

1232453368046So we went into the House building and happened upon the committee room for the Ways and Means Committee, and we saw people going in and out with no specific sign for anything.  And you could clearly see some people looked comfortable being there and others kind of had the WTF look going on.  I was the latter.  Now, Becky had scored the tickets and said that they came with the instructions that there was food somewhere.  Common sense dictated it was somewhere in the Ways and Means Committee room.  So, when Becky and the other girl with us–let’s call her Molly–walked in (remember how Becky is dressed) we saw ALL black people.  Now that wasn’t all unusual, but I had walked in there and they were watching CNN and we had kind of set up shop to try and regroup before heading back out, and then some sweater and plaid shirt dressed young black dude walked up to ME, shook my hand and greeted me, followed by asking “Who are you guests of?” 

I should have responded, “Whoever would prevent you from ending your sentence with a preposition.”

Instead, I politely acknowledged that it was an invite only gathering.  And me and Molly joked walking out of the door if I they stopped us only because they were white.

We walked back outside into the cold weather, we watched activity from the eastern front of the Capitol as the official helicopters landed twice, perhaps carting some of the very important persons, and we meandered down C Street toward First street.  We had come to the first line and discovered it was for those with Orange tickets, so we processed down further arriving where I-395 goes into the tunnel under 3rd street and commenced to wait in line with other people who said they had blue tickets.

It was 7am.

1232456346862Long story short, because I’m doing a whole blog on the EPIC FAILURE that was the coordinating committee on the crowds, it was 11:15 and we still had not gone through the gate, let alone security and the line that had formed earlier had now turned into a mob of people not knowing what to do.  We were pushing each other, morale had dropped completely and all of us were left standing saying WTF.  Becky and Molly were ready to cut and Becky said she needed to pee.

Well, now I was conflicted.

Molly’s parents said that they felt much “better” because I was going with their girls, and they kind of knew me because–oh, yeah, didn’t say this part, oops, lol–I had done my internship up in Gaithersburg this past summer and I’ve kept in text messaging contact with Molly ever since this summer.  So these girls knew me, they had kind of attached themselves to me as a pair last summer, so this was totally easy to do.

That being said, I was prepared for Becky’s whining to commence when she said she had to pee, and I was just waiting for her to crank it wayyyyyy up.

Well, I had driven (or is it drove) 10 hours and spent some hard earned money to come up here.  Not to mention this was sooooo the event of a lifetime.  We will NEVER have the first inauguration of a black, male president.  So, at 11:25 when it was evident that our view of history was about to be the eyesore of the Botanical Gardens, that I still haven’t visited, and we weren’t going to hear anything where we were, we cut the line and the two girls were trying to convince me to go to Molly’s mother’s job in Rosslyn in Virginia and to go now when the Metro wasn’t crowded because getting on the Mall was going to be next to impossible.  

I think Molly knew that I was conflicted because I just didn’t want something happening to two suburban 16 year olds in this crowd because an irate mother was NOT what I wanted to encounter–and I needed a ride from the Metro station when we got back.

12324696193951We walked quite swiftly around U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services building and arrived on 3rd street.  I was trying to stake out somewhere that I could stand on a high spot and possibly see something, or at least get to a point to hear the services.  But I kept on walking, and I realized that no one was stopping my progress.  So I kept on going and arrived a very empty Third Street between Independence and Constitution Avenues–and then I looked up and saw a clear sky not impeded by the horrible views of the Health and Human Services building and Botanical Gardens and the masses of people that I had just stared at for the previous four and a half hours of my life.

Then I realized that I had made it.

A grand sense of calm finally came over me.

It was short lived because I heard Diane Feinstein’s voice and we had already joked in the previous Blue Ticket holder crowd that since it was her name signed on the tickets, we all had aught with her.


I got over it, and started talking to three other women; two older black women and one younger.  Probably a daughter, mother and aunt of the daughter.  I was so relieved to actually be there, I could hear clearly and there was a Jumbotron way off in the distance, but it was close enough where you could at least see what was still too far to see in real life.  I asked the group of women how’d they get here and they informed me that they hadn’t left their house until 10:30…


…and that they had had a full breakfast of grits, eggs and bacon–meanwhile I had had a fat air sandwich about 6:30 when we got of the Metro.

1232471128270I called my mother, and it I was still on the phone when Rick Warren began his prayer and was promptly shushed by one of the grit eating ladies because “he’s praying.”  The uber-liberal, anti-church seminarian in me rose up and wanted to tell Mother just who Rick Warren was and why the hell I didn’t care what he prayed.  That aside, I felt his prayer was appropriate, and I felt that he summoned up “the Ghost” aka, the Holy Spirit for the prayer–it was evident he prepared for it unlike the senile ramblings he had done the day before at Ebenezer.

In the midst of Rick Warren’s prayer, I did feel compelled to join in with the Lord’s Prayer, mildly shocked that he actually did the whole thing.

12324711416261I must say, the entire moment prior to Obama’s speech was a series of highs and lows and fraught with my mind staring off into the deep blue space of the sky not helping but wonder who ever envisioned this day.  It cannot be lost, even in the midst of FoxNews and other right-wing wingnuts, that we, as a country, actually elected and swore in a black man.  Whether or not one wants to go down the road of “ontological blackness” and whether or not that qualifies Eminem or not, if Obama was an average Joe [six-pack] who no one knew and seen on the corner of Georgia Ave. and Florida Ave. by the CVS waiting on the bus, he would be black by all accounts no questions asked, and daresay labeled slow because of his patented “ums” and “uhs.”

I spent the next thirty minutes through Biden’s swearing in and Arefa’s song (and she KILLED it by the way, not to mention, she finally looked stylish and not some singing tent which has been the case as of late.  Although, from where we were, we couldn’t tell wtf she was wearing and it just looked tacky.  I came to the final conclusion when I finally was able to watch a real television) and the four piece musical that I saw.

I mean, I still would have opted for HGC to sing, but I guess Morgan State’s choir earlier last weekend in Baltimore was the closest thing I was going to get, but the classical crap was a bit to European for me, even juxtaposed to Arefa Franklin.

12324711697801Seeing as how after the swearing in part, where I’m just personally convinced Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who is  going to be one of the very few remaining vestiges to a George W. Bush administration, just couldn’t quite get himself together to swear in Obama completely flubbed and failed at reciting the Constitutionally required oath, “the moment” plateaued during his speech and dipped slightly with the formalities of the day and kicked it up again a knotch with Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery’s benediction.

Sorry, I just refuse for the day to be lost on the racial harmony that was experienced yesterday, but dammit Tuesday, January 20, 2009 is the third most positive and important event to the lives of black people in this country.  We’ve only had two prior to that–the premier being the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments (damn Lincoln freeing the slaves–he only did it in the states that had seceded from the Union and clearly slavery was legal in places like Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland {yes, it was legal to own slaves in the District of Columbia as well} and still with that the Emancipation Proclamation enumerated certain Louisiana parishes that were not required to free their slaves which were mostly the river parishes {meaning the Mississippi river divided the parish in two or lined the banks of the Mississippi} including Orleans Parish) and the second being the passing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 jointly.

Lady Michelle Obama knew what the hell she said when she said for the first time in her life she was proud to be an American.

Without hijacking this post completely, we’re NOT in a post-racial America and this day was definitely a watershed moment.  Just on Thursday night, when I arrived back from DC, I heard someone on Fox, maybe Bloviating Bill-O The Clown say that the only reason Obama won was because….oh hell, I can’t remember, but he needs to remember that it was a slim majority and indicative of impulse voting and that this was proved through the fact that FoxNews was number two in the ratings to MSNBCs 22 ranked spot.  Whatever the case, Obama’s presidency has provided the sweetest revenge ever for me as a black male, I’ve ever seen in the political arena.

Just to see Bush look like “Wow, this is how I’m going out” when the crowd booed him, and to imagine how he looked when Lowery said “and white can embrace what is right” to seeing the epitome of poetic justice as Dick Cheney was wheeled into the proceedings from an alleged back injury from moving boxes packed to move out of his residence.

Now who in America really believes that this trigger happy individual was moving boxes?

That being said, it was truly one of the highlights of my life to see Obama sworn in; to feel it in the air, actualizing hope, conquering fear.   This was a conquered fear that had manifested itself in song “I Wish I Knew How, It Would Feel To Be Free” written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, but made famous because of Nina Simone making the original recording in 1967 and for the first time in the lives of many blacks, we felt free that day.  

To a younger generation, that as Tavis Smiley noted to a rapt audience at Dillard University’s Lawless Chapel in spring 2005, that has not had to live through a collective civil rights struggle, we went to the inauguration because we felt apart of this movement; Barack Obama made sense to us.  Whatever chord he hit, resonated with us and shame on the older adults for not letting us have our moment.  I daresay that the young people that attended the inauguration, this was our attempt to share in the ecstatic feeling that was shared by those who attended the 1963 March on Washington organized by A. Philip Randolph.

Moreover the Republican and conservative sour grapes that they’ve been eating this past week starting on Monday is clearly not birthed out of being black in this country.  Their inability to not understand the fear passed down from generation to generation in black families across this country and the pathology of cynicism (rightly so in many cases) created in the crucible of slavery, Jim Crow and white privilege run rampant lead to the deepest level of hatin’ I’ve ever seen.

But oh, what a glorious day it was to be there.

I can watch Sean Hannity and just sit and laugh because it really doesn’t make a difference anymore.  

Seeing as how I’ll do a whole post about his speech as well, I’ll keep it short and sweet: I think it was one of his better speeches on the basis that I believe he was on the other side of victory and caution and was able to be liberally frank about his vision for the country–yet another thorn in the side of Republicans and self-professed conservatives in this country.  

There’s the old Negro spritual entitled “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  and the words repeat themselves and end by saying, “Oh, it causes me to tremble.”  Now, I’m not making the comparison of Obama to Jesus–not at all and this most certainly was not a crucifixion, but rather a celebration, but the ability that when someone asks, “Were you there?” I can answer in the affirmative is a special gift that no one can take from me.

It was truly an experience that I will bore the hell out of my grandkids reminding them ad nauseum that “I was there.”

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

3 thoughts on “It Almost Didn’t Happen, But Thank God It Did: an Uppity Negro Inauguration Story Part One

  1. You know your “cousins” use prepositions when they talk. Amazing how you can remember all that detail by detail. It looked like it was to cold to think. My only hope and wish for that day was for George Bush to have heard those people booing him.

  2. Uppity, thank you so much for sharing. I like your ‘were you there’ reference (oh, oh, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble).

    America (and the world) is in the the tremble-time and my prayer is that we the people right ourselves and truly accept the responsibility (and attendant accountability) that we are in deed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

    My hope is that this tremble-time arcs toward social justice and truth because we are all human beings. Let the love train rock on toward civil freedom for its human inhabitants.

    Uppity Networkers, keep on keeping it uppity and radical through our tremble-time. Kujichagulia!

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