A chance to see history in the making four years ago took Clementine Coleman and Geraldine Trotter to Washington, D.C. for President Barack Obama's first inauguration. The ladies from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago went back to our nation's capital once again to stand witness during Obama's ceremonial inauguration on Jan. 21.
"I think I wanted to be part of history one more time," Coleman said. She and Trotter were two of nearly two dozen members from Trinity who attended the inauguration. "He was reelected, and I felt I needed to support him one more time because this was something I thought I would never see in my lifetime."
The women braved cold weather, long lines for security clearances, traffic headaches and tens of thousands of fellow Americans to get a glimpse of the Commander in Chief. But it was worth it.
"Someone said to me, 'You were actually there?' And I began to value the experience of being there," Coleman said. "I just thank God I was blessed to do it not once, but twice. If I had to do it, in spite of my feet killing me when I got home, I'd do it again."
From where Trotter was located during the inauguration, she had a clear view of the left wing of the Capitol, and could see several House of Representatives and Senate members as they walked along an aisle before taking their seats on the podium. Coleman's standing spotgave her a view to the video display on the podium in front of the U.S. Capitol.
Obama's address to the nation after he took the oath of office was one of the most memorable moments for both women.
"I loved what he said and how he linked all those things that were important to accomplish in his second term," Coleman said. In Obama's speech, he outlined priorities on LGBT equality, immigration reform and, though it wasn't a key issue of his re-election campaign, environmentalism. "Hopefully he can use his influence to bring these things to life."
"I saw history unfold before my eyes. Of course his speech and the invocation were beautiful," Trotter said. "But I will remember when [was walking toward the podium] he turned around to look out at the Mall one more time to let it all sink in."
The group arrived in Washington Friday Jan. 18, participated in the National Day of Service on Saturday in Washington Mall and visited the MLK Memorial. The excitement throughout the weekend grew with each passing day, Trotter said. Their hotel was staffed with an inauguration desk to provide visitors information about the D.C. area.
Coleman feels a sense of pride in saying she knew the first family when they were members of Trinity UCC — they worshipped there until Obama became a presidential candidate in 2008.
Coleman and Trotter were two of 23 from Trinity UCC who went to D.C. four years ago to witness the inauguration of the country's first African-American president. It was important to them to be a part of the cheering section from the Chicago congregation once again.
The experience was more enjoyable during this second trip, Coleman said, and more significant because the inauguration took place on Dr. Martin Luther King Day.
Coleman and fellow Trinitarian Barbara Sadler attended the black-tie Inaugural Ball later that evening. Coleman said she had a good view of the President and First Lady Michelle Obama during their dance at the Inaugural Ball, highlighted by performances from musicians Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx, among others. "I think there were almost 40,000 people there. It was very crowded — it wasn't shoulder-to-shoulder, but it was crowded," she said. "You see all the diversity and young people. Ages and races came together to enjoy themselves."
For future generations of would-be-inaugural attendees, Coleman and Trotter can offer plenty of advice; wear comfortable shoes, and get familiar with public transportation.
"I can say be prepared for a lot of walking. Even though you have good tickets, there are a lot of security clearances and there are a lot of people who want to see [the president]," Coleman said. The city has several transportation challenges during an inauguration – closed streets near the parade route and a busy public subway system are just a few. "It was like, through it all we persevered."