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We're back from Washington and our trip was wonderful. To be part of this historic event was truly amazing and we will never forget it. We met some incredible people during the weekend. We met people from 26 different states both black and white and everyone said the same thing: "We just had to be here," which was exactly how I felt after Obama was elected.
We met two sisters who traveled from Texas 23 hours. We met a group
from North Carolina who traveled with their pastor and got there at
three on the morning. They were going to turn around after the
inauguration and go home. I'm sure they could not afford to stay in a
hotel, but they found a way to get there. We heard many similar stories.
One of the things we did was visit an exhibit at the Smithsonian. It was a collection of photographs from the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these pictures brought me to tears (I know it's hard to believe) especially as I was looking at them usually standing next to a group of African Americans. I knew what I was feeling (honestly shame) but I couldn't even imagine what they were feeling.
I met one little girl and her mom. The mom was trying to explain to her 9-year-old daughter a picture of a car that had a dead woman in it. This woman was killed by the KKK simply for marching for black rights. We wound up talking to the women and her daughter for a while. The little girl told me how last year she was in a Pottery Barn and a little white boy told her that the "blacks shop over there and the whites over here." The little girl told her mom who told the mom of the white boy. That mom tried to get her son to apologize but to no avail. He said that his dad said that's the way it is. My little friend went on to explain to me that God made people all different colors and that we all need to get along. She also told me that God sent Martin Luther King Jr. to change the world. She informed me that she had many friends that were "my color." She was wise beyond her years. I told her, "You could be president someday." Her mother remarked how 40 years ago we couldn't even be standing there having the conversation. I told her that if I were black I would probably hate white people. She had no bitterness only hope for the future.
I was looking at another picture sobbing again when a black teenage boy came up to me and put his arms around me and told me, "Don't cry, it will be OK. Things are going to get better." He was consoling me as I was looking at a picture of a black man getting beaten by police. Being down in DC this weekend, there was such a feeling of hope by both blacks and whites, the feeling of moving forward. No doubt we have a way to go.
I did have one experience during the "We Are One" concert on Sunday that made this fact very clear to me. Joe Biden was giving a speech and pretty much everyone was quiet except for some whispering. There was a group of black people behind us who were very loud. I turned around and put my finger to my lips with no sound. One of the people in the group was a woman older than the rest. I tell you if she had a gun I think she would have killed me. The look of anger in her eyes scared me. I turned around and tried to tell her very politely that I was just hoping they could keep it down a bit. She was livid and went on to tell me that she was insulted and that they were intelligent people. I tried to assure her that the last thing that I was trying to do was insult her and I apologized four times. She wouldn't give me an inch. All of her children clearly realized that I did not mean to insult them but not the mom. She made it clear to me that she thought I was treating them differently because they were black. I told her that I was insulted that she thought that and that we need to come to common ground on this. She wondered why I picked them out of the whole group. I told them that I picked them because they were the only ones who were being loud. In the end I tried as hard as I could. She told me that she heard me but clearly she was still mad. Her kids wanted to take a picture with me and I had to beg her to get in the picture with us. I haven't had that woman's experiences. It made me sad that she thought I would treat her differently.
Obviously I never marched for civil rights and I'd like to think that I would have been brave enough to do so, but I can't be sure. I do feel though that we were all part of something so special in American history. I feel like Martin Luther King's dream came true on Tuesday.
There were almost 2 million people there that day and not one arrest. During the weekend I was thinking that this was a celebration for African Americans. In the end that day I realized that it was an American celebration. It was a celebration of how far we have come. When you looked in the crowd you saw a true representation of the American people. I don't know if there will ever be another gathering like this again.
I have never felt more proud of my country. I feel like I have a much better idea of what it truly means to be American. Times have never been so bad yet there has never been so much hope. I truly believe that if we can all work together we can turn things around. Barack Obama cannot do it himself. He needs our help.
Peggy Delaney lives in Warren with her family.