The Inaugural: A relay race toward justice

By Gloria J. Browne-Marshall

First Lady Michelle Obama holds the bible as the President takes his oath of office
administered by Justice Roberts. He delivered his Inaugural Address immediately
following. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon on Inaugural Sunday was titled, “Their Watching in the Stands.” The Chapel on the Howard University’s campus was filled to capacity as Rev. Wright spoke of a relay race toward equality. He preached of ancestors watching this race for equality to see if their work was in vain.

Former head of Chicago’s Trinity Church, Rev. Wright spoke of an obligation to carry on the work of those who had already sacrificed themselves as well as a duty to create a better world for those yet unborn. The entire inaugural week-end was a testament to service and hope for the future

President Barack Obama views a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama before a church service at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On Saturday of Inaugural week-end, a Day of Service program brought together thousands of volunteers.

Organizations manned booths to disseminate information about their mission and need for assistance. Opportunities to volunteer were mixed with musical guests. Later that day, at The Kids’ Inaugural, instituted by President Obama during his prior term, toddlers and teens celebrated the inauguration with celebrities Usher and Nick Cannon as well as members of GLEE and singer Katy Perry.

On Sunday, the President was sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts. It was the official swearing-in required by the Constitution to take place on January 20th following the election. On Monday, the public inauguration took place before a million spectators. Those who remembered the frigid temperatures of the last Obama inaugural were pleased to have warmer weather. Dr. Myrlie Evers, widow of slain NAACP voting rights activist, Medgar Evers, gave the invocation. Dr. Evers asked God for the strength to make a better world for all.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend a church service at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack H. Obama gave an inaugural speech that was deep in spirit and broad in scope. He spoke of the obligation and duty to the present as well as to generations of Americans to come. It lasted only eighteen minutes. The crowd, eager for every word, heard the President say, “freedom is not reserved to the lucky.” And, he assured them that “security and peace do not require perpetual war.” The President condemned the “shrinking few” who “do better than the many.” He spoke of issues as broad as climate change, gay rights, and immigration.

Afterward, thousands stood along the parade route waiting to see that bullet-proof Presidential Cadillac called “the beast.” They cheered, calling his name. Tens of thousands waited in line in now frigid night air to enter the Convention Center for one of two official Balls celebrating the inauguration. Long gowns flowed as did the champagne.

The President, wearing a Black tuxedo, and Michelle, in a red gown, danced to “Let’s Stay Together.” They embraced before a swooning audience of on-lookers who admired the Obama’s love and respect for each other. Those volunteers and contributors who had fought for that love to exist in the White House for another four years drank in the momentary time of political peace.

That celebratory night would soon end. Time goes quickly. It was 150 years ago that the Emancipation Proclamation as signed. It was fifty years ago that the 16th Street Church in Birmingham was bombed and four little girls were killed. And, it was on that Inaugural Monday that this country celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr..

As revealed by Rev. Wright, the ancestors are watching this race for equality. It is a relay. President Obama has been handed the baton.

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College and author in New York City. She is a legal correspondent for The Milwaukee Courier as well. She covered the Presidential Inauguration this week on behalf of the paper.