The Inauguration Through a Photographer’s Eyes

Post a Comment » Written on January 23rd, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Warren Dillaway

ASHTABULA, OH (January 23, 2009) – A sense of excitement was in the air as we walked through a steady snowfall and frigid temperatures to board a bus for an eight-hour drive to our nation’s capital.

The working class town of Ashtabula is a world away from the halls of power in Washington D.C., but the pending sense of history for Americans was evident in the 43 people that boarded the bus organized by the Ashtabula chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

FourA mix of black and white, young and old watched movies and talked of the impending collection of humanity gathering to usher in a new chapter of American history. Upon arrival at a Metro stop in suburban Maryland, the adventure of a lifetime kicked into full gear.

A biting wind greeted us as we piled from the bus and headed for the train to Washington. Small groups of people made plans on how to best navigate the mass of humanity and arrive safely somewhere on the National Mall.

Jammed Metro cars made keeping together almost impossible as we were jostled and crushed on our way to the big event. Looking through the train’s windows, we saw hundreds of buses parking in lots along the line from Maryland into the city.

A small group of us decided we would go to the Foggy Bottom station in the northwestern section of the city and walk about a mile to the Lincoln Memorial. One of the first things we saw were Humvees complete with armed military police blocking intersections along the route.

TwoThe mood of the people was upbeat with designated greeters slapping hands with sleepy visitors four hours before the big event. We visited the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, drinking in the symbolism of the inauguration of an African American President.

Several hundred people already had claimed the steps of the monument and hundreds more milled about deciding on the next step on this adventurous day. We decided to walk toward the Washington Monument and found an open area where we began to see the full intensity of the moment.

The symbolic center of the trip for me came when we witnessed Gwendolyn Mabry, an African American from Atlanta, Georgia, and Cathy Cash, a white woman from Morgantown, W.Va., dancing together less than 100 yards from the Washington Monument.

Ashtabula County residents said they felt comfortable the entire time, even though there were an estimated two million people in very close proximity. The only quasi-ugly moments came when out-going President George Bush was booed after he was announced during the ceremonies.

We settled near one of the many jumbotron screens located throughout the Mall area and heard segments from the celebrity concert held two evenings before, which helped people get in the mood for the historic event.

OneIt was a powerful experience to watch African Americans beaming with excitement, realizing the “impossible” was about to occur. Tears poured down the faces of many and cathartic screams emanated from others who expressed pride and excitement, standing shoulder to shoulder with white people celebrating the same event.

As the two million people tried to exit the Mall from a relatively small number of unbarricaded streets, we ran into a protesting street preacher with a large sign advertising the fact that only Jesus Christ could truly solve the world’s problems.

The reminder was not heard well by excited people hoping for a new world of change for a country battered by war and economic problems.

As a middle-aged white man who has voted for Jesse Jackson and Ronald Reagan, I sorted through a memory bank of images ranging from Bull Connor blasting African Americans with fire hoses to the event we had just witnessed – and realized history has its own path.

God works in truly mysterious ways. The street preacher’s reminder of Christ being the true agent of change is one to heed, but God’s work through human beings is also a biblical view that brings us to a challenging crossroad.

The challenge from newly elected President Obama – for Americans to step up and not wait for government to solve problems – presents an opportunity for the church to find unique ways to reach out to a hurting world desperately in need of the love of Christ.

Editor’s note: Warren Dillaway is a photographer for the Ashtabula (OH) Star-Beacon and has provided photographic news coverage for both Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meetings and CHIC events. He was asked by Covenant Communications to provide his reflections and photos of Tuesday’s inauguration of the 44th President of the United States.

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