The Inauguration: My Second Great Washington Experience

Edna Branch Jackson
Edna Branch Jackson

On August 28, 1963, I was among the 250,000 citizens who traveled to Washington for the historic March on Washington. We were there to demand the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; an increase in the minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia. This was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation’s capital, and one of the first to have extensive television coverage. I was there when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred the consciousness of the nation with his eloquent “I have a Dream” speech.

On January 20, 2009, more than 45 years after the March on Washington, I was in Washington for another historic event. This trip was not to make demands or to protest any government action or inaction. This time, I traveled to Washington to witness the Inauguration of an African-American as President of the United States of America.

The Presidential Swearing-in Ceremony, and all of the other events before and after the big moment, were spectacular. Although surrounded by almost 2 million people, everyone was patient, courteous, proud, patriotic and hopeful.

The Inauguration was certainly a very emotional experience for me. Although I was honored to be there and sit among our Congressional leaders, my mind kept turning back to our battles for freedom, justice and equality in Savannah and across the nation. Many of my friends who were part of the Civil Rights Movement are no longer with us, so I could not help but wonder what would be their thoughts at this great moment in history. What would they say, or what would Dr. King tell us at this time?

Yes, I attended the Obama Inauguration to celebrate and rejoice that the March on Washington, and all of our struggles, were not in vain. Part of Dr. King’s dream has been realized. The majority of the American people were able to look beyond race to elect an African American to the most powerful position in the world.

I am grateful that I experienced two of the most significant events in our nation’s history, and although I know that Dr. King was rejoicing with us at the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President, Dr. King’s legacy reminds us that as a people, we have miles to go before we rest…miles to go before we rest.

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