Howard University News Service
The audience, flushed with emotion, applauded enthusiastically Tuesday as Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul,” sang “My Country ’tis of Thee.”
“This is so beautiful,” said a weeping Larry Goldenhersh, owner of an environmental firm in San Diego, as he watched the inauguration unfold on television. “A chapter has turned in American history. We have proved that we can regroup as a people and reclaim our greatness.”
Goldenhersh was among about 80 people gathered a short walk from the Capitol at B. Smith’s restaurant in Union Station for a brunch to celebrate as Barack Obama became the nation’s first African-American president.
“Blessed” is the only word I can use to express my feelings on the momentous occasion,” said Mark Thomas, 43, an employee of the Georgia public relations firm that sponsored the event at the popular restaurant owned by black style maven Barbara Smith. Thomas had tears in his eyes.
As the opening words of Obama’s inaugural address resounded through the restaurant, tears trickled down the faces of men and women all over the room. Some reflected on the struggle of their forebears.
“I come from Selma, Ala., a city where prejudice and injustice has been deeply rooted for decades,” said Barbara Harris, an employee of the Birmingham Police Department in Alabama. “My parents were treated as second-class citizens. No matter how educated we were, we were never good enough or thought of as equal.”
Harris asserted that there was divine intervention in Obama’s ascension to the presidency.
“God is the only one who has elevated Barack to the highest office of the United States,” Harris declared.
Music for the event was provided by the Howard University Gospel Choir, which performed songs of inspiration, such as “We Shall Overcome” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”
“[The choir] has had eight to 10 inaugural engagements this weekend,” Calvin Seino, a tenor, said. “I haven’t slept much at all.”
As the Howard choir delivered an inspirational rendition of “Oh Happy Day,” Barbara Smith, owner of the restaurant, stood to applaud.
“I am simply ecstatic!” Smith said. “My uncle came [home] from World War II and couldn’t eat upstairs in Union Station. Many years later, I own the dining room that used to be the presidential suite,” she said. “We live in a world where possibilities are now limitless.
“He has lived as a ‘mutt,'” Smith said of Obama. “So he understands the pain and agony of defeat, but he also understands how to administer hope. The world is watching, and we are going to show them.”