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Generations Trek To The Mall To Hear Obama's Speech

Jan 22, 2013
Originally published on January 22, 2013 8:06 am
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OK, if you stood near where the president stood yesterday at the west front of the Capitol, looking down from there, you see down the long strip of grass that is the National Mall, past the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.


And that is about where I spent most of the day, Steve, in the farther reaches of the crowd. People were watching the speech on jumbotrons and when they asked everyone to rise for the presidential oath, people out there laughed. They yelled, oh, we're standing, because there were no seats that far out. I'll tell you yesterday, Steve, you could buy almost anything.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Obama earrings only $5. Obama earrings, here you go.

GREENE: One popular item they were selling was a winter hat that said Obama Back To Back across the front. Now, Steve, I was out there because I wanted to get a sense for what brought people to Washington, what they were taking from this day and what they're looking for in Obama's second term. Of course, this was both an inauguration day and also Martin Luther King Day, and I spent some time at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. And here's one person I met there.

REVEREND PATRICK KENNEDY: My name is Patrick Kennedy and I'm a priest in the Christian community.

GREENE: Rev. Kennedy had brought a Christian youth group along with him, teenagers from different parts of the east coast. And for him, visiting the King Memorial and also the Lincoln Memorial was more important than the inaugural festivities.

KENNEDY: It's kind of a party, Kelly Clarkston singing and Beyonce and stuff like that, but...

GREENE: But this is more important for what reason, would you say?

KENNEDY: Oh, well, nobody gets more free just because Barack Obama says I'm for the United States. He has a chance to do his work, which is great, but the things that Lincoln did and that Martin Luther King did, those are real actions that changed the world for the better.

GREENE: But for hundreds of thousands of people, this was all about the swearing in of Barack Obama, and that includes Tyeast Blanding. She's 45. She owns her own hair braiding business in Lynchburg, Virginia and she got on a bus at 2:00 A.M. to make it to Washington. Who did you bring here? Who are we (unintelligible)?

TYEAST BLANDING: This is my mom. I brought three generations with me actually, my mom, my niece is here and my sisters are all here.

GREENE: So Tyeast was all bundled up, face warmer across the face. She was taking bites of Twizzlers to fight the hunger and she was holding two American flags in her right hand. She waved them whenever something up on the big screen excited her. Bill Clinton comes out.

BLANDING: I loved him. He was actually our first black president.


GREENE: Which made me want to ask Tyeast about the nation's actual first black president. And as we stand here today on Martin Luther King Day, the inauguration, would you want to hear him talk about civil rights, race, being the first black president of this country? I mean, what would you like to hear in terms of that?

BLANDING: No. I don't think he should talk that because really, a lot of times it is said that we talk about that too much as far as the blame factor. We've accomplished a lot by him even getting this far. A lot of us never thought we'd see this in our lifetime and this is a big accomplishment and it doesn't even need to be talked about.

GREENE: One thing she did want the president to talk about was the economy. Like so many other small business owners in the country, Tyeast has struggled recently. She said she was willing to give President Obama four years to clean up what she said was a mess that he inherited, but now, she said, it is his economy to fix.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let us answer the call of history.

GREENE: I stood beside Tyeast Blandon as she listened to the speech.

OBAMA: Thank you. God bless you. And may He forever bless these United States of America.

GREENE: So what did you think?

BLANDING: Great. Just great.

GREENE: And what message do you leave here with, when you leave Washington?

BLANDING: Hope that something's going to change in 2013.

GREENE: We were talking before about whether you think that, you know, a day like this can actually bring the country together politically. I mean, do you have hope of that?

BLANDING: I do now after listening to him.

GREENE: Why is that?

BLANDING: I don't know. He puts a positive spin on everything. Anything is possible.

GREENE: And, Steve, with that, Tyeast Blanding made her way back through the crowds to her bus and she got ready for one long ride home.


GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.