Carol Motsinger • published January 20, 2009 3:42 pm
ASHEVILLE - Johnnie Grant, of Asheville, wiped away tears with the cloth napkin provided at The Buncombe County Democratic Party Obama-Biden Inaugural Luncheon.
On the three big screens, Aretha Franklin belted out "My Country, Tis of Thee," and Grant considered the significance of President Obama's swearing in as the 44th president of the United States.
"At this present time in history, I'm reflecting on all of those who did not live to see this day," she said at the luncheon at the DoubleTree Biltmore Hotel. "Many people sacrificed … what a big price we had to pay for freedom."
She had tickets to the inauguration in Washington, D.C., but decided to celebrate the new leadership in Asheville, the land she said has made her who she is.
"For me, as an African American woman, I reflect and say this is where we should be."
The luncheon had the elegance of a wedding reception - white tablecloths, fancy food - with the atmosphere of a pep rally. The diners jumped up and down, pumped fists in the air, cried and cheered during the inauguration coverage they watched on the big screens.
Some wore patriotic clothing, red, white and blue ensembles or American flag hats matching the balloon directions at each table.
"We've has the most significant change of leadership in this country in two generations," Glen Meadows, of Asheville said before the events began. "It's big."
He wanted to share the moment with the community "because it's a major, major event."
Clark Olsen could barely hold back tears before Obama was sworn in. "It's a big day" was all he could get out at the beginning of the ceremony.
Olsen, of Weaverville, was in Selma right after the historic civil rights marches in 1965. He and two other ministers were attacked after eating dinner. One man, James Reeb, died from the injuries he sustained during the scuffle.
The terror and frustration of that period of America's history were on his mind as he watched the first African American president sworn in, he said.
Even though he is a white man, segregation and institutionalized racism made "me feel that I was incomplete, that I didn't have freedom" he said.
The 75-year-old retired minister noted, "I had no idea that this day would come in my lifetime. I never dreamed it could happen," he said of Obama's presidency.
"This moment in American history is extremely gratifying and emotional."