Portions of the Mall were standing room only, and latecomers were directed to an overflow area. Many left immediately after the inaugural speeches and were snared in Metro delays caused by crowding and equipment problems. But thousands of others lined Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the Obamas travel from the Capitol to the White House and review about 60 floats and bands.
Parade watchers chanted the president’s name as the afternoon motorcade glided past, and screamed in delight when he and the first lady alit from their limo and walked a spell. “Life changing, exciting, thrilling,” was how Ashley Williams, 17, of Cleveland, described the moment she saw the Obamas in person. “I was on the same street as him, breathing the same air.”
For others, it was a time for reflection. Many who attended mentioned the convergence of the ceremonial inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying that each lended more meaning to the other. That was particularly so for those old enough to have lived through segregation and the civil rights movement.
“I was in Memphis when Dr. King was assassinated and in Jackson State when Medgar Evers died,” said Earline Matthews, 80, a retired schoolteacher from Memphis who rode to the District in one of two bus loads of people from Tennessee. “I am just inspired for the future of America and that we can witness history.”
Yolanda Davis brought her 5-year-old daughter, Anastacia, from Ohio, saying it would help her child understand how much brighter her future looks because of King and Obama.
Davis said her grandparents grew up in the segregated South. Obama’s presidency underscores the progress the country has made, she said. “It shows we have come full circle in the way that we have been treated.”
A predominantly African American crowd gathered in front of the Smithsonian castle, cheering and waving flags.
Sandra and Ronnie Robinson of Birmingham, Ala., set up folding chairs to watch the inaugural ceremony. Ronnie Robinson, 54, said he was in first grade when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed by white supremacists. Four little girls were killed.
Attending Obama’s inauguration on the King holiday, he said, “is the culmination to the dream. If we’re ever going to get close to the dream, this is as close as we’re going to get.”
Like the Robinsons, Katherine Ward, a Naval officer, was attending an inauguration for the first time. Ward, who is African American, said she was serving in Iraq when Obama entered office. “Now I’m here to cheer him on,” she said. “Everything Martin Luther King marched for and spoke on has come true.”
Some snafus revolved around Metrorail. Several downtown stations were temporarily closed after signal problems and a disabled train between the Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn stations caused delays of up to 20 minutes on the Red, Blue and Orange lines.