Watchdog Blog

Mary C. Curtis: Starting to Make His Own History

Posted at 10:28 am, January 21st, 2009
Mary Curtis Mug

They walked along Pennsylvania Avenue and the crowd roared. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama looked relaxed and not the least bit cold and – just like that – it was real.

Men jumped on other men’s shoulders to get a better look, parents held children high in the air and throngs of people ran as the first couple walked, as though they did not want to let the new president and his wife out of their sight.

Just a day earlier, Jan. 19, 2009, it was not real. Obama won the election two and a half months ago, but until he placed his hand on Lincoln’s Bible and repeated the oath of office (after a few back-and-forth stumbles with Chief Justice John Roberts), there was always the fear that “they” would take it away – “on a technicality,” my husband joked.

Maybe that was why so many of us had to be there, to see it with our own eyes. On the train from Baltimore in the early morning and on the streets of Washington, I met old friends and made new ones: three women friends from Los Angeles (one said Obama had the “key match of intelligence and the ability to get it done”), two sisters with no tickets but plenty of optimism, a woman so excited she “couldn’t sleep all night.”

African Americans who had lived through a very different America needed to see it. Agnes Coleman wore a hat with postage-stamp-style pins that honored Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Ella Fitzgerald and other accomplished black Americans. The 70-year-old from Rhode Island didn’t think she would ever see this day. “We’re like this,” she said, as she puffed her chest out, a little prouder.

Joyce and Clarence Fisher, a 60-plus couple from Gastonia, N.C., got their tickets for the swearing-in after Clarence Fisher wrote Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) a letter telling his story. The two North Carolinians (he’s from Reidsville, she’s from Gastonia) met at North Carolina A&M in the 1960s, where they marched for civil rights. They attended segregated schools and experienced unequal treatment. They still lived a good life — an all-American life — raising two sons and working in the corporate banking world. Clarence Fisher served his country in the military. His letter made their case.

Then the phone call came – followed by inaugural tickets.

“It’s a monumental event,” said Joyce Fisher, “not only history for African Americans but history for the United States.” She said Obama’s election shows that Americans can “look at a person for being a person.”

“Look how he’s motivating people,” she said, echoing the call to duty and service Obama would make in his inaugural speech with the words, “we can do so much more together than we can do alone.”

When I saw there would be a transfer of power unlike any in our country so far, I realized why I had to defy common sense and head to Washington, D.C. I had to represent my brother Douglass Anthony Curtis. He marched for civil rights, was arrested twice during sit-ins at restaurants. He died of a stroke a few years ago, though I’d like to think he had a front-row seat this day.

In the crowd, I saw a lot of tears, probably for other relatives and friends who paved the way. Today was a time to think of them, and then move forward.

Everyone has placed Barack Obama’s campaign and election in history: from the lessons of Lincoln to the legacy of King.

Jan. 20, 2009, he stepped out of the shadows of history and started to make his own.

First published on the Inauguration 2009 blog for 90.7 WFAE, a Charlotte, N.C., NPR station.

4 Responses to “Starting to Make His Own History”

  1. Frances Campbell says:


    It’s been great reading your election reports! I miss you in the Observer but am glad to be able to read you still. I’m so glad you could be in Washington covering this wonderful time in our nation’s history and sharing your thoughts with the rest of us.

    Frances Campbell

  2. Watchdog Blog » Blog Archive » Starting to Make His Own History | WebTuts says:

    [...] Here is the original post: Watchdog Blog » Blog Archive » Starting to Make His Own History [...]

  3. Ed Mesko says:

    I certainly wish the Obama’s well, but not his policies which I sincerely believe will weaken America’s security, and his fiscal stimulus, modeled after FDR’s will drive us further into debt. And, would a right to life conservative Republican, who was black, have received the same platitudes as Obama as well as a free pass from the 4th Estate.

    Best wishes to you, Mary. I miss your Observer articles.


  4. Reggie Singleton says:

    Mary ,I continue to be impressed with your work,commitment and courage.We miss you in Charlotte. Keep the faith.

    Reggie Singleton

Comments are closed.

The website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.