Inauguration Day, 2009

Last night I covered an event at the State Historical Building which featured a huge, boisterous, joyful crowd. The King Birthday Celebration Planning Committee held an inaugural celebration, marking both King's birthday and the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration.

A choir sang, then Reverend Carolyn D. Clinton-King stepped on stage, took the microphone off of its stand and prepared to sing a religious song entitled "He Keeps Doing Great Things."  But before she sang, she opened with a declaration that was met with an extended cheer from the crowd.  "There was a miracle on the Hudson River," Clinton-King said, referring to last week's emergency but safe landing of a jet in New York City. "And tomorrow there's going to be a miracle in the White House."

Organizers of the event planned to play some prepared video footage of Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, but the computer locked up.  Organizer Chet Guinn jumped up to the microphone and urged folks to sing some of the songs planned for a bit later, and "find meaning in every word."  He was talking about two songs in particular — "This Land Is Your Land" and the final verse of The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

The technician did get the computer up and running, and the video showed some clips from Obama's speech at the Ioaw Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in November, 2007.  "I am in this race," was the mantra and, back then, I wrote about it. The next video montage featured some of Obama's remarks on Caucus Night, January 3, 2008.  The crowd erupted in applause and cheers.  When Obama said, "You have done what the cynics said we couldn't do," a woman in the back of the crowd yelled, "Yes, we did!"  When Obama followed that with, "We are choosing hope over fear," another woman said, "Yes, we are!"  The video faded with the audio of that Caucus Night crowd chanting, "OH-BAM-UH" — and the crowd at the Historical Building laughed.

Video clips of King's speeches followed, the "I've been to the mountain top" speech.  When King's voice rose and declared that he had seen "the promised land," people in the crowd responded with, "yes, yes, yes" and "oh yeah."  At the conclusion of the King video, the band began playing the chords of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the crowd automatically stood, without prompting, and began singing the final verse of a song soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republican sang during the Civil War. 

Now, this morning, I'm sitting at my desk in Des Moines, Iowa, watching the inaugural festivities on television.  The journey that's ending today on the steps of the capitol began long ago.  In November, 2006, I saw for the first time an "Obama for President" button.  Lots of territory has been covered in the more than two years that followed, much  of  it  chronicled  here  on  this  blog. (Click on those eight links in the last sentence and read eight different blog posts covering the 2008 campaign — starting in September, 2006!)

If you're watching the inaugural at home, you might spot Seantor Chuck Grassley among the senators on the risers behind Bush.  Grassley told Radio Iowa's Matt Kelley early this morning that he was taking a camera with him.  Grassley plans to take pictures and post them on his website. 

Iowans who've been in D.C. report lots of celebrity sightings.  One man text messaged me that he was standing beside Natalie Portman at the concert on the mall Sunday afternoon.  The Iowa party at a D.C. bar on Sunday had the celebrities Jackie and John Norris in attendance. 

We're told Congressman Tom Latham, a Republican from Ames, is one of the 100 members of congress who will be attending today's luncheon with Obama — immediately after Obama's inaugural address. There are an estimated 1800 Iowans who won tickets to the inaugural ceremony through the Iowa congressional offices, which dispensed the tickets on a lottery system.  Governor Culver and his wife, Mari, are somewhere in the crowd of dignitaries.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.