National Dispatches: Celebrations Away From D.C.

President Barack Obama has become the first African-American leader of the United States. People around the nation are finding their own ways to be involved with the celebration. From New York City to Obama's hometown of Chicago to Seattle, NPR reporters are providing updates:

A small group of marchers move across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., today. Civil Rights marchers were beaten by Alabama State Troopers when they tried to cross the bridge in 1963. (AP)
A small group of marchers move across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., today. Civil Rights marchers were beaten by Alabama State Troopers when they tried to cross the bridge in 1963. (AP)

12:55 p.m. ET — Robert Smith in Harlem, New York City:

The inauguration of President Obama is the culmination of a dream by the students of Democracy Prep, a charter school in Harlem. The 300 kids here have been studying the election all year, and they wanted to travel to D.C. for the inauguration. But the school couldn't swing it. So they decided to find the largest space in Harlem and fill it with students from 40 different schools.

As people in New York City met in churches, theaters and even City Hall to watch the inauguration on TV, the largest event was in the Harlem Armory. School buses lined up outside, bringing an expected 5,000 middle and high school kids.

Inside, the concrete walls amped up the volume of the already-loud teenagers. The event was more of a pep-rally than quiet reflection.

The kids, mostly wearing school uniforms, waved flags and danced in the aisles to Stevie Wonder in the moments before the ceremony began.

9:30 a.m. PT — Martin Kaste in Seattle:

The Inauguration Breakfast here at Central Cinema in Seattle's Central District was sold out last week. This hipster movie theater offers mimosas and strata (Italian for quiche, apparently) to an adoring crowd of Obamamaniacs to watch the Inauguration on the big screen (tuned to PBS, of course.)

It's a mainly white crowd, wearing fleece and narrow eyeglasses. Many here hiss at every sight of Dick Cheney, and issued audible sighs of exasperation when Pastor Rick Warren approached the lectern. His invocation was followed by silence.

While the mood here is celebratory, there is also an abiding concern that Obama may prove to be too centrist. One woman has already promised that, if Obama proves too accomodating to the right on issues such as gay rights, she will march against him. But for now, she says she accepts his rapprochement with the right — in the name of national unity. The question here is, how much of Obama's centrism is symbolic, and how much will be backed up by policy.

10:57 a.m. CT — Russell Lewis and Tanya Ott, in Birmingham, Ala.:

A crowd of more than 5,000 is packed into Boutwell Auditorium, chanting, screaming and singing "O-BAMA, O-BAMA, O-BAMA". Some tears are flowing and smiles are plenty in this almost revival-like setting.

Virtually everyone here in this historic civil rights auditorium is African-American. People, young and old, are clutching and waving tiny American flags. They're standing in the aisles, off to the sides and are applauding as they await Barack Obama's swearing-in and speech.

10:56 a.m. CT — Howard Berkes, in Coalgate, Okla.:

The early lunch crowd is now watching the TV intently at Esther's Kountry Grill.

Co-owner Barbara Elkins has tears in her eyes. She admits she didn't vote for Obama.

"I don't agree with him politically," she says. "But this is an historic day for our nation. There was a time when I wouldn't have been allowed to serve blacks in my restaurant. Now we have a black president."

Braddock acknowledges that some people here in the "Little Dixie" region of Oklahoma may not have supported Obama due to his race. But he also notes that Democrats here are very conservative, especially on abortion, gun rights and gay marriage.

Coalgate Postmaster Ken Braddock stopped in earlier for breakfast.

"I don't have any problem with his color," Braddock says. "I probably would have problems with his policies."

"Regardless of how we voted, he's still our president," says Wanda Utterback, editor of the Coalgate Record Register. "I think we all have that sense of hope. Like a new beginning, a turnaround in the country. Hopefully."

9:55 a.m. MT — Jeff Brady in Denver:

About two dozen students have crowded the basement of Condoleza Rice's former sorority house on the campus of the University of Denver. The room is silent except for occasional whispers and "ahhhs" as CNN's cameras pan the crowd on the mall in Washington, DC.

Poa Lim is from Korea and is studying English at DU, "It's very surprising for me—it's the first time to watch the inauguration ceremony."

Glenn Summers is the community outreach coordinator at the Department of Internationalization at DU. He says there are two things key to a good inauguration party—Tootsie Rolls and tissues.

10:45 a.m. CT — Cheryl Corley, in Chicago:

A rowdy crowd at the DuSable Museum of African-American History erupted with cheers and applause as Barack Obama appeared on the screen of the huge TV in the museum auditorium.

With about 450 people, the hall is packed to capacity, and people are still flowing in. In one of the back rows, a group of six young white teenagers with their mothers say Barack Obama inspired them so much they worked on his campaign and wrote letters to them asking for them to help their school.

10:20 a.m. CT — Russell Lewis and Tanya Ott, in Birmingham, Ala.:

Birmingham police now say 4,200 people have squeezed into Boutwell Auditorium. By far, the biggest, loudest and most sustained applause came when the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was wheeled into the auditorium.

Shuttlesworth is one of the pioneer leaders of the Civil Rights movement. He marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr. Police arrested him dozens of times. The Ku Klux Klan used 16 sticks of dynamite to blow up his house while he was inside. He escaped unscathed.

Shuttlesworth was beaten up when he tried to enroll his daughters in an all-white school. Last year, the Birmingham City Council renamed the airport "Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport".

Shuttlesworth suffered a stroke a few years ago, and it's difficult for him to speak. When organizers played a tribute DVD chronicling his life and his efforts, he nodded his head. One of the speakers says, "Without Rev. Shuttlesworth, there would be no President Obama."

8:55 a.m. CT — Russell Lewis and Tanya Ott, in Birmingham, Ala.:

About 2,000 people have already streamed into Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium. As many as 6,000 people are expected here to listen to a two-hour-long program leading up to a live broadcast of the Obama inauguration. Like a lot of Birmingham, Boutwell Auditorium has a long, rich civil rights heritage. It's named after Albert Boutwell, a former Birmingham mayor who was a segregationist.

In 1938, the auditorium hosted the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. When Birmingham City Commissioner Bull Connor ordered the 3,000 black and white delegates to segregate themselves, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt pulled her chair into the center aisle in defiance.

In 1948, the auditorium hosted the States Rights Democratic Convention (better known as the Dixiecrats), where Strom Thurmond was nominated to run for president against Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey. In 1956, singer Nat King Cole was assaulted by three white assailants during a segregated performance.

Boutwell Auditorium is a few blocks from Kelly Ingram Park. It was there, in 1963, police turned fire hoses and dogs on student marchers. The images from that day captured international attention and are considered a major factor in the national push towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The crowd of people who are here today in the venue are well aware of this region's civil rights past, and are enthusiastic about Barack Obama's inauguration. People are smiling, chanting and singing.

8:46 a.m. CT. — Cheryl Corley, in Chicago:

There's a light snow falling in Chicago and people are beginning to flow into the DuSable Museum of African American History, where more than 450 people will witness the inauguration on a big screen TV in the auditorium. The group is mostly older. The perfume is heavy, and the mink coats abundant and people like Pamela Johnson, who is a bookseller, say they're happy to be alive to see an African American — as well as a Chicagoan — make history.

8:30 a.m. CT. — Howard Berkes, in Coalgate, Okla.:

TV coverage of the inauguration now graces the big flat-screen TV hanging in Esther's Kountry Grill. But in a state where every county voted for Republican John McCain, the breakfast crowd isn't paying much attention. Coalgate is in Coal County, which is 84 percent Democratic.

Still, 74 percent of the voters chose McCain.

The owners here at Esther's say they plan to leave the inauguration coverage on all day. "It's an historic day," agreed owner Barbara Elkins. "It's just a little bit sad it's not John McCain."

This program aired on January 20, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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Lisa Tobin Senior Podcast Producer
Lisa Tobin was formerly WBUR's senior podcast producer.



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