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Local residents tune in to historic inauguration

From Hall to Washington, North Georgians witness Obama's ascent to presidency

POSTED: January 20, 2009 3:47 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Shoppers and Best Buy employees stop to watch the pPresidential inauguration Tuesday afternoon inside the store on two televisions tuned to the event.

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As required by the U.S. Constitution, the swearing-in of President Barack Obama took place around noon today.

Unfortunately, many people were at work during that time and didn’t have access to a television at their jobs.

But that didn’t deter some from finding a way to view the event. At the main branch of the Hall County Library in downtown Gainesville, about 20 people gathered in the meeting room to watch the inauguration on a wide-screen TV.

"I looked all over town trying to find a place that was showing it on TV, and then I saw in the paper that it would be at the library," said Laquata Walker of Jefferson, who works about a block from the downtown square.

Of course, Walker probably could have caught a rerun of the ceremony later in the evening on one of the news channels, but she didn’t want to wait.

"I felt like I needed to see it now," she said. "It’s very historic."

The library audience watched the program intently and reacted almost as if they were at the live event. Some recited the Lord’s Prayer along with the Rev. Rick Warren. When Obama was sworn in as president, they broke into applause. A few even shed tears.

During Obama’s inaugural address, they responded periodically with nods and "amens," and gave him another round of applause as the speech concluded.

Afterward, Walker said it was hard to believe that Obama was actually now president.

"As an African-American, I’m very proud," she said. "But I still have to tell myself it’s real. The euphoria hasn’t worn off yet."

Walker’s colleague, Stephanie Snelling of Loganville, said Obama comes across as "very genuine."

"I think he’s going to come through and do a lot of the things he’s proposing," she said.

Andre Tukes of Gainesville believes the new president will respect and adhere to the Constitution.

"I think he will try to go along with the guidelines that our forefathers fought for," Tukes said. "It gives me hope that things will be set straight. I think he will enforce the laws on human rights."

Tukes said he appreciated that Obama was realistic about the challenges ahead.

"Things might be brighter, but it’s not going to happen overnight," he said. "(Obama) said you have to go through hard work and effort to reach your goals."

Lila Kate Cooley and her sister, Abby, both of Gainesville, made the trip to Washington with their parents. Their wait in line began around 8:30 a.m.

"The line didn’t move for an hour," said Lila Kate, a junior at Gainesville High School. About two hours later, the sisters walked through metal detectors and made it to their seats, about 100 yards from the platform.

"I could see the president well," she said. "I couldn’t see his facial features but I saw him when he stood or if he moved his head."

The two girls had tickets to an area for seated guests. Their parents, Jody and Lora, had passes to a standing area which became too full and the couple had to watch the inauguration on TV inside a nearby building.

When the new president appeared, the seated crowd began chanting "Obama" and "Yes We Can."

But the more lively crowd was further away on the National Mall.

"There were people as far as I could see and they went insane," said Lila Kate Cooley.

She said the wait at times was frustrating.

"At first, I was discouraged with the line, but then I realized that we were a part of something bigger than that, we were watching history."

"The crowds were monsterous," said Andy Maddox, a Gainesville public defender who had attended previous inaugurals. Maddox said he was struck by the number of older blacks who attended the ceremony.

"It was a place that you felt like you in the middle of something historic. As we were exiting, they were clearing a way for two or three of the Tuskegee Airmen. There were a number of elderly African-American folks from all over the country and you wouldn’t think they had the health to be there."

But Maddox said all in all, the crowd was very diverse.

Students stood and saluted the TV at the front of their second grade classroom at West Jackson Primary School while the new president took his oath.

Noah Slayton, 7, said he enjoyed watching the change of power from one president to the next. "I think it’s cool because we get to see Barack Obama becoming the president ... and we get to watch what happens to see how someone becomes the president."

Second-grade teacher Barbara Rinker spent the day teaching her students about what a presidential inauguration is and why this one was so historic.

"Why is it so special?," she asked. "Why is it a special election?"

Several students responded: "Because he’s the first African-American to ever be president."

Rinker said she set aside the day to talk about the inauguration because of its affect on her students’ futures.

"We are creating citizens for our society, and so we want them to be educated on all of those things that make them good citizens," she said. "It’s very important for us to touch on that."

But not everyone was riveted to the historic scene. Back in Gainesville at Longstreet Cafe, much of the busy cafeteria’s lunchtime crowd seemed oblivious to the inauguration, which was playing on two wall-mounted television sets.

Only an occasional glance from customers was given to the ceremony as most patrons continued with their lunchtime conversations.

The same was true at the Gainesville Civic Center where members of the Kiwanis Club gathered for their weekly meeting. A flat-screen TV was tuned to the inauguration and drew little attention from the members of the civic club.

As Obama delivered his inaugural address, Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine walked through the room shaking hands with club members.

The audio on the TV was eventually muted as no one appeared to be watching.

Reporters Harris Blackwood and Katie Dunn also contributed to this story



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