The last time Katie Claude was in Washington, D.C., for such a major event was in 1963 during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march on the capital for economic and social justice for people of all colors, before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts had been passed.
“I know I’d never see it again,” Claude, 78, who missed the first inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, but came for the second one, said.
Claude sat with her daughter, Latonya Ford, 41, and her grandson, Bakari, 2, in a cafe not far from Pennsylvania Avenue, where her two granddaughters were waiting to watch the inaugural parade -- three generations of a family.
“It was important for us all to be in the midst of this,” she said. “ I never thought I would see this -- a black president not only president once, but twice. It’s an honor for me.”
When Claude came to Washington with Dr. King nearly half a century ago, there were still places in America where she was not welcome because of the color of her skin and laws that told her she was different and needed to be separated from "white America."
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“It’s changed tremendously, for the better,” Claude said. “Human beings are more human now.”
Her daughter was grateful that her two-year-old son could be present with her and his grandmother to experience the moment.
“It’s great, even though he doesn’t know what’s going on,” she said. “We’re all here together, even separated in a crowd, we’re here as one body.”
Ford also missed Obama's first inauguration, because she was living in Florida at the time. Now she lives in Delaware with her husband and three children, working as a high school math teacher.
“I wish he could understand,” she said, looking at Bakari, who sipped contentedly from a cup of soda. “Today is Martin Luther King Day and today [Bakari] saw part of his dream come true,” Ford added, referencing Dr. King's “I Have a Dream” speech that called for an end to racism in America, which her mother witnessed in person.
“We’ll tell him when he is older,” Ford said. “We can talk about it generations from now. I’ll tell my grandchildren about it someday.”
Claude watched Bakari eat half a panini and thought about his future.
“There are great opportunities out there for him,” she said. “It’s not going to be handed to him on a silver platter; he will have to work hard for it, but he won’t have to go through everything I did.”
Bakari clung to his grandmother’s arm and buried his face, embarrassed to be the center of attention. But when asked if he would like to be president someday, he straightened up, smiled and responded, still not able to speak in full sentences.
“Yes,” he said.