For older blacks, a dream is realized
BY ERRIN HAINES Associated Press
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
1/21/09 at 2:38 AM
ATLANTA — As she watched Barack Obama descend the steps of the U.S. Capitol to be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, 107-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper leaned forward in her seat, grinned and let out a contented sigh.
One of her grandsons asked, "How do you feel about having a black president?"
"Well," Cooper said at her home on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Atlanta, "I helped put him there."
And so she had.
It was not just Cooper. It was all the men and women of the black generations who endured the cruelties of Jim Crow, who knew the indignity of separate drinking fountains and the terror of snarling dogs. They fought back with sit-ins and boycotts and ballots.
On Tuesday, with weathered hands and an excitement that belied their age, they applauded Obama — and the role they played in sending one of their own to the White House.
"I was hoping for a great change that would happen in my day," said Cooper, whose story was highlighted in Obama's speech the night he won the election.
Mary K. Jones, a 78-year-old retired university professor in Detroit, has come a long way from the sweltering heat and segregation of Arkansas. She grew up there, along the banks of the Mississippi River, on the same 40 acres her great-grandmother — a former slave — received from the U.S. government.
"Jim Crow and segregation were something we were born into. It was just a way of life," Jones said Tuesday. "We lived in a certain area. We all knew where we could go or couldn't go. You stayed where you were. But they (whites) were in their place, too."
When Obama took the oath of office, Jones sat up in her chair, clasped her hands to her chest and smiled. "There is still integrity. It's not lost," Jones said. "I feel very full."
In his inauguration speech, Obama looked to inspire the nation with a recognition of how far the nation has come.
Obama then led an inaugural parade that paid further homage to pioneers in the fight for equality. Re-enactors from a black Civil War regiment, World War II's surviving Tuskegee Airmen and Freedom Riders who battled for civil rights followed the new president's limousine to the White House.
In Fresno, Calif., the Rev. Joseph and Jewellene Richardson watched the ceremony in their apartment at an assisted living facility. Married 63 years, the two met while attending a segregated school in Boynton, Okla.
"Through the years we've been saying, 'We shall overcome,' and we overcame," the reverend's wife said. "We are in the winter of our country's history, so there's spring to come."
Mary K. Jones, 78, (right) and Ella Crawford, 73, of the Hannan House in Detroit watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Tuesday. PAUL SANCYA/Associated Press