'Welcome everybody from everywhere!'
From across the country, they arrived yesterday, men, women, and children determined to be there when Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation's first African-American president. Globe reporters in the crowd describe how the historic day unfolded:
And ready for change she was. An African-American who had grown up knowing the sting of racial epithets, she riveted sheet metal for warships at Charlestown Navy Yard during World War II. Now, she and nine other women in their 70s and 80s from Saint Paul AME in Cambridge had come to witness the inauguration of the first black president.
"Good afternoon!" Moore said, mocking the early hour as she greeted the others.
"We hope everything will go well from here to our destination," said Doreen Hawkins, 78, a retired postal worker. "We want to be in that number."
And then they were off, beginning their 30-mile trek to the National Mall by taxi, subway, and finally by foot.
The deluge of people converging on the Mall meant that he and other longtime activists from his congregation - a progressive church in Harvard Square - were forced to ditch plans to meet and walk to the Mall together. So Cummings and his godson, Michael Fonteboa, marched with a crowd of people, many waving flags as they made their way down Independence Avenue.
When they found a spot near a JumboTron, though partly obscured by a tree, they stomped their feet to stay warm. Excitement grew as Aretha Franklin sang "Let Freedom Ring."
And after Barack Obama took the oath of office, Cummings made a loud whoop. Even though his Cambridge group was spread across the event, and he was surrounded mostly by strangers, he felt whole, he said.
"I [felt] a certain kind of bonding with everyone who was there," Cummings said later. "We're not just one little group. We're America."
The D.C.-based Polar Bears Against War and Melting Ice said yesterday was a time for celebration, despite lingering questions about some of the new administration's energy policies.
"We are very concerned about Barack Obama's policy toward coal. There's no clean coal; we need to focus on solar and wind energy," said organizer Adam Eidinger, 35, an activist who lives in D.C. and has mounted protests at the last two inaugurations. "But we're here to congratulate him."
The Mall had emptied out. A small crowd gathered around an MSNBC trailer, watching Chris Matthews hosting "Hardball" inside a glassed-in portable studio.
Among those watching was Michael Gilbert, a dog trainer from Springfield, Ohio, who wore a red varsity jacket that he had outfitted with an enormous Obama patch, perfectly matching the Obama fleece sweat shirt worn by his dog, Beowolfe. How was his day?
"Splentaculous," Gilbert replied.
The inaugural parade rattled on, a marching band from Oregon, a group of children in white satin star costumes from San Antonio. The JumboTrons along the Mall broadcast each act to the mostly empty lawn.
But Lora Faison, 44, stayed, sitting quietly by herself in her folding chair, a camera around her neck. She did not want to miss a minute of this day, even though she had gotten up at 2:30 in the morning to make her way to the Mall.
One day, said the certified nursing assistant from North Carolina, she would tell her grandchildren all about it. On the JumboTron, meanwhile, the new president waved down at one of the bands.
"He's going to have his good days and his bad days," she said. "But if he stays focused, God will give him the strength to press on."