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'Yes we did' 

Locals watch with pride and inspiration as Barack Obama becomes president

Standing several blocks from the inaugural stage, under the statue of a Civil War hero, James Tucker found an auspicious spot Tuesday to watch Barack Obama become the 44th president of the United States.

A few hours later, speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., the Colorado Springs resident hinted at the enormity of Obama's becoming the first black to hold the nation's highest office.

"It means so much to me as an African-American," said Tucker, publisher of the African American Voice newspaper, delegate to the Democratic National Convention last summer and Colorado director of a campaign for a national Juneteenth holiday recognizing the end of slavery. "This is one of the most significant moments in United States history."

Obama took his oath shortly after noon before a crowd of 1 million-plus that filled the National Mall and brought the capital to a standstill. It was a long way, figuratively and literally, from the small meetings that Mike Maday of Colorado Springs had attended with other Obama supporters as far back as April 2007.

"I didn't think he'd win," Maday said Tuesday afternoon, sounding incredulous even after the inauguration itself had ended. "It's like the world has changed."

Weary after eight hours on his feet, Maday who ascended to a leadership role in El Paso County and also attended the DNC in Denver last summer seemed still to be processing the event he had just witnessed in person. Standing at the near end of the National Mall, he said he had a clear view of Obama speaking on a huge television screen positioned nearby. (There was only a short video-to-audio delay before Obama's words arrived.)

Sam Hunter, another Springs resident, had an even better view. The 89-year-old was in a group of about 200 Tuskegee Airmen who were given prominent spots at the inauguration to honor their service in an Army Air Corps unit of African-Americans who served during World War II and inspired desegregation in the military.

"We fought for our country to make things better," Hunter said by phone, while his bus waited in considerable post-inauguration traffic.

He talked softly about the accomplishments of the Airmen, who only recently gained attention for their civil rights efforts.

"We sort of paved the way," Hunter said.

Other Colorado Springs residents watching from their homes found the inauguration no less meaningful. Franklin Clay, a local civil-rights leader who grew up in a segregated Georgia, had tickets to the inauguration but decided the crowds would be too much for him and his wife to navigate. Hours after the end of Obama's speech, Clay seemed no less inspired for having stayed in Colorado.

"It's difficult for me to say how I'm feeling, because I'm overwhelmed," the 73-year-old said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought anything like this would happen."

Clay first was stationed in Colorado Springs with the Army in 1954, and he remembers at the time how it was possible to find classified ads in the newspaper that offered home rentals "for whites only." He suggests that Obama's election marks considerable change, and the new president's words could inspire even more.

"When [Obama] appealed to our inner strength, I could visualize so many people looking at life from a different perspective," Clay said.

Tuesday's inauguration inspired reflection on advances in civil rights, but also simple expressions of joy. As a group of Colorado Springs residents relaxed in Washington after the inauguration, Nancy Henjum grabbed Maday's cell phone, wanting to express her feeling of "just utter delight and joy and relief."

"It was overwhelming," she continued.

Henjum mentioned the moment when George Bush departed the Capitol for his final ride in the presidential helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base, where Air Force One was waiting to take him home to Texas. Her thought?

"We've finally made it."

Henjum handed off the phone to Lynn Young, another Colorado Springs resident, national convention delegate and Obama campaign volunteer, who summed up her thoughts in a few words.

"Oh yeah, baby," she said. "Yes we did."

lane@csindy.com

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