Sitting in a reviewing stand near the White House was Jody Huckaby, the executive director of the activist group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “It’s monumental. It’s historic,” he said afterward. The message, as he saw it: “The American promise . . . this administration is serious about it for everyone.”
As Obama spoke from the Capitol’s West Front, a flag-waving crowd spilled down the Mall toward the Washington Monument. Their numbers appeared smaller than in 2009, when 1 million or more people watched Obama’s first swearing-in. The best measure of the difference may have been ridership on Metro: As of 6 p.m., about 657,000 rides had been taken. At the same time four years ago, there had been 923,000.
Still, for many in the crowd, it was a moment whose magic was not dulled by repetition.
Sandra and Ronnie Robinson of Birmingham, Ala., set up folding chairs to watch the ceremony. Ronnie Robinson, 54, said he was in first grade in 1963 when white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four young 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 Navy officer, was attending her first inauguration. 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.”
Obama and Vice President Biden were, technically, on day two of their second term. Both had taken their oaths of office in private ceremonies on Sunday, to meet the constitutional date of Jan. 20. By tradition, when that date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremony is moved to the next day.
On Monday, Obama’s day began with a motorcade ride to the opposite side of Lafayette Square for a service at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The Old Testament reading was God’s advice to another leader with an ambitious agenda: Joshua, the successor to Moses.
“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
After a slow motorcade ride along Pennsylvania Avenue, the inaugural ceremonies began. There were appearances by pop-culture icons, both old and new: James Taylor sang “America the Beautiful,” Kelly Clarkson sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and Beyoncésang the national anthem.