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It was tears, smiles, and lots of layers for NEA-Retired members who braved the cold and the crowds to attend the presidential inauguration

Greg Saitz

When Josephine Bolling McCall was a young girl in Alabama, a group of men lynched her father. When she was a teenager, she participated in the Montgomery bus boycott and later attended a youth march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke.

And when Barack Obama became the first African American elected president, there was little question about what the retired educator from Montgomery, Alabama would do: go back to nation’s capital for the inauguration.

So on a cold but sunny January day, as she watched Obama place his hand on Lincoln’s bible to take the oath of office, tears streamed down her cheeks.

“I couldn’t hold them back,” says Bolling McCall, 66, who took a bus to Washington, D.C. with dozens of her sorority sisters. “It was an overwhelming feeling.”

She and her friends watched the events unfold on a big-screen TV in penthouse offices of a law firm not far from the White House that hosted an inaugural party.

“The biggest emotion I feel now is all of my ‘first Blacks’ are insignificant because we have a Black man in the highest office,” Bolling McCall says of her career in education.

Some 1.8 million people descended on the city to be a part of Obama’s inauguration and plenty of retired NEA members were there to experience it firsthand. Few probably traveled as far as , a resident of East Honolulu who spent 31 years in education.

Fujimori, 69, who still remembers seeing Obama’s father on campus when both attended the University of Hawaii, met up at the inauguration with two longtime friends—all of whom previously served together as state directors on the NEA Board.

She took seriously the advice to dress in layers, protecting against temperatures in the mid-20s with thermals, a wool sweater, a coat, a heavy jacket, ski cap, mask, earmuffs, wool scarf, foot and hand warmers, and two blankets.

Fujimori says she was amazed at how quiet the crowd was for the ceremony.

After his swearing in, “without any hesitation, I began to hug the strangers near me, saying, ‘God Bless America,’” she says. “We cheered, we smiled, we cried, and we hugged. It was an emotional moment.”

For friends of retired chemistry and physics teacher Jack Tucker who couldn’t be with him on the National Mall, the Darien, Illinois resident gave them the next best thing:

He typed updates on his BlackBerry as the event unfolded, ending with “Ladies and Gentlemen. We have a new president!”

“I absolutely loved it,” says Tucker, 66, who went with friend and fellow retired NEA-member Kathy Despain. “In fact, I may go to Washington for the next inauguration.”

Gloria Brown, 62, may not be planning that far ahead. But the retired teacher from Southington, Connecticut, who attended the swearing-in with her son, brother, and sister-in-law, certainly enjoyed this inauguration.

Brown, who is white, says she wanted to be part of history and was struck by the communal atmosphere that permeated the city.

She and her group stationed themselves near the Lincoln Memorial, and although far from the Capitol, they were able to see everything on one of the many JumboTrons. When Aretha Franklin sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” Brown says she linked arms with others, including an African American woman next to her, and swayed to the music.

“When it was done, she turned to me and said, ‘Thank you for wanting to be here, too,’” recalls Brown. The event “was just the most inspiring thing, not just because of the president, but because of the diversity of people there.”

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