A number of people from Pine Bluff or who have connections with the city were among the more than 300 people who made the 20-plus-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C. for Monday’s presidential inauguration ceremonies in a trip sponsored by the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.
The second inauguration of President Barack Obama evoked strong feelings of support as well as recognition of the striking symbolism of this ceremony falling on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Mildred Tatum is a 27-year veteran of the Pulaski County Special School District Board of Directors and marked her second witnessing of an Obama inauguration.
“I’m here,” Tatum said with a look of thoughtful emotion as she leaned against a crowd control barrier on the National Mall several hours before the start of the ceremony.
“It brings tears of joy to me that I made it here today,” said Tatum, who only two months earlier had surgery on her leg and walks with the aid of a cane. “We’re on the ground here facing the Capitol. I’m blessed.”
Tatum has two nieces who teach school in Pine Bluff and her adopted son is a school principal in Pine Bluff.
“My niece Edith Scruggs teaches at Jack Robey Junior High and my niece Valerie Holmes teaches at 34th Elementary School,” Tatum said. “My adopted son, Michael Nellums, is principal at Pine Bluff High School.”
Tatum was planning on attending the Arkansas Ball at the Washington Convention Center on Monday night.
“I would love to be able to get a picture taken with President Obama and Michelle,” Tatum said with a smile.
Shayla Moore and her sister Tiny Marie Johnson made the trip together for several reasons.
“I didn’t get a chance to go to President Obama’s first inauguration and I wanted to be a part of history and to go somewhere that I haven’t been before,” said Moore, who is the coordinator for the Delta Housing Complex at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as well as the proprietor of Shay La Shay Boutique on Main Street.
“I want to experience the culture of it,” Moore said. “I’ve never been to the monuments in Washington and I know how important it is to see the nation’s capital and experience it at least once in my life.”
Moore said another aspect of the trip that appeals to her is the sharing of a common experience by those who feel the same way about the president.
“I have two sons — one is 7 and the other is 7 months — and I want to bring them back someday for the experience of being in Washington,” Moore said. “I also want to be able to share this with my college students. I want them to see that they can go places they haven’t been before.”
Johnson, who recently finished her course of study to be a nurse practitioner at UAPB, is also keen to be a part of a historic moment in American history.
“I am so proud of President Obama,” Johnson said. “I missed his first inauguration because I was in school, so when I had the opportunity this time I didn’t want to miss it.”
Johnson said the fact that Obama’s inauguration ceremony coincided with the MLK holiday made being in Washington for the event even more special.
“It is the realization of the dream voiced by Martin Luther King Jr.,” Johnson said. “Children can now see that there is nothing that they can’t achieve if they work hard at it. Dr. King spoke of going to the mountaintop and both he and President Obama have made it there. I thank God for President Obama’s leadership.”
Johnson also looked forward to being in the nation’s capital in general.
“It’s D.C.,” Johnson said. “I’ve been to Washington before and it’s a great place. It’s nice to be adventurous and to meet fun and new people who will be part of something important with me.”
Mary Hart of Pine Bluff also made up for missing Obama’s first inaugural by traveling to Washington for the second.
“I want to put my feet on the same soil where he is being inaugurated,” Hart said on the ride to Washington. “It is a festive event. I am going for my children and my grandchildren. I want to be there in the crowd and I am so proud of Obama. The Obamas seem like family to me. I regret not getting there the first time.”