Across The Country, People Witness History The inauguration of Barack Obama resonates differently across the country. From Seattle to a Southern civil rights battleground, from a Denver college campus to Oklahoma's Coal County, people watched Tuesday's ceremony wondering whether Obama would fulfill their dreams or confirm their fears.
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Across The Country, People Witness History

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Across The Country, People Witness History

Across The Country, People Witness History

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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We begin with Tanya Ott of member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama.

TANYA OTT: Nearly 6,000 people packed Boutwell Auditorium for an inaugural celebration billed as "Birmingham: Where History Meets Hope."


OTT: And there's a lot of history to draw on. In 1963, just a few blocks from here, Bull Connor turned fire hoses and police dogs on civil rights marchers. Yesterday's celebration honored foot soldiers like the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, who enjoyed the tribute from a wheelchair in the front row.

U: We celebrate the election of our president, because of the work of this man...

OTT: The history wasn't lost on Connie Hunt(ph), who was born in south Alabama in the 1950s.

M: We wasn't allowed to walk in, you know, to restaurants. Schools were segregated. But things now have changed a lot, that's why we're here today, because what they did back then, what our family did, our parents.

OTT: Still, some attendees, like J.C. Cunningham, noticed the audience was overwhelmingly African-American.

M: I didn't want this to be like that, you know- This is an American event, not a racial thing, you know- You know, we are down South. It's going to take a little while for a lot of things to change.

OTT: For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ott in Birmingham, Alabama.

JEFF BRADY: I'm Jeff Brady, and on the campus of the University of Denver, dozens of students and staff watched the inauguration on big-screen TVs in the basement of a former sorority house.

GLEN SUMMERS: This actually used to be Condoleezza Rice's sorority house.

BRADY: Former Secretary of State Rice was a student here in the early '70s. Glen Summers(ph) says now it's the place on campus where international students come for help and just to hang out. On Tuesday, many of them came to watch the inauguration.

M: My name is Ana Leon, and I'm originally from Mexico.

BRADY: Leon is a Master's student studying public policy. She became a US citizen in time to vote last November. She says President Obama's focus on foreign policy in his inaugural speech was exactly what she wanted to hear.

M: I feel like in the last eight years we have neglected some of those relationships abroad, and I think that they're important to the stability and the economic growth of our country.

BRADY: Other students marveled at the number of people who showed up in the Mall in Washington. A student from Japan said his country changes prime ministers so often it's just not that big of a deal any more. Laurie Cook works in the admissions office at DU, and says the new president's speech left her feeling hopeful.

M: I've been very fearful for many years. War and the economy and what's coming next, what's coming down the pipe for all of us. And we watch people losing their jobs constantly, and he's saying jobs are coming, have hope. Change is coming.

BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

MARTIN KASTE: At Central Cinema, one of those dine-in movie theaters, Andrea Betser(ph) reviewed the morning's menu.

M: We're doing an egg strada.

KASTE: Egg strada, it's Italian.

M: Yeah, it's kind of like a quiche, only a little bit fancier.

KASTE: Inside the theater, the mostly-white baby-boomer-leaning crowd watched the inauguration on PBS. Sightings of Dick Cheney provoked a predictable enough reaction.


KASTE: But the hisses weren't as heartfelt as they might have been just a couple of months ago. These Seattle-ites are tired of hating the Bush administration. They're more interested now in watching what they see as the rightward drift of the new president.

M: Just having the guy who's doing the invocation today, Warren, is very upsetting.

KASTE: Jane Stiedel is talking about Rick Warren, the socially conservative pastor whose "amen" was met here with stony silence. Still, Stiedel says Mr. Obama's efforts to reach out to the right do not dampen her Obamanian feelings of hope.

M: I'm just kind of taking deep breaths and saying, OK, (laughs) you know, this is bigger than me and my little beliefs.

KASTE: And Chuck Morgan(ph) also says Obama deserves some patience.

M: I think the reason that Obama's getting, quote unquote, more of a break than Bush got, is because you sense the direction in which Obama is trying to head is different than the direction in which Bush was heading.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

HOWARD BERKES: This is Howard Berkes at Esther's Kountry Grill in Coal County, Oklahoma, where candidate Barack Obama received only 26 percent of the vote. Co-owner Barbara Elkins is among the vast majority here who voted for Republican John McCain. But as she watched the inaugural ceremonies, she wept.

M: If I'd owned this restaurant 40 years ago, I wouldn't have been allowed to have black people come in here. It's wonderful to know that our country has come this far, that we can elect a president not based on his color. I'm hoping the best for him, even though he and I don't share the same political views.

BERKES: Most people in Coal County don't share the new president's politics, even though most are Democrats. More than 80 percent of registered voters here are Democrats, but more than 70 percent voted Republican in November. They've been Democrats for generations, but this part of Oklahoma is known as Little Dixie. People are too conservative to accept the national party principles and liberal candidates. Ken Braddock is the postmaster in the county seat of Coalgate.

M: I changed my affiliation because I can not agree with abortion, and I can't agree with same-sex marriage. And that is the platform of the Democratic Party. Therefore, when that became their platform, I had to switch to the Republican Party.

BERKES: Retired salesman Dale Ennes(ph) was munching on chicken fried steak and macaroni salad as the inaugural ceremonies began, and he stayed focused on his food.

M: That changeover don't interest me. I just got to wait and see where we're headed to. See if he does anything good, which is doubtful. I feel like I'm going to have to pay a lot of money. He likes to spread the wealth. So what little I've got I'm really afraid he's probably going to spread it.

BERKES: Wanda Utterback(ph) was more conciliatory. She's the newspaper editor here, and she said that many of those who didn't support Mr. Obama still want him to succeed.

M: I think we all have that hope, even in a place that didn't vote for him, because he's still our president.

BERKES: And then Utterback interviewed me about interviewing her and others here at Esther's Kountry Grill. Howard Berkes, NPR News, Coalgate, Oklahoma.

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