Missourians celebrate Obama's inauguration

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 | 3:45 p.m. CST; updated 4:16 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 20, 2009

ST. LOUIS — At an Omnimax movie theater in St. Louis, hundreds of residents rose to their feet Tuesday as Barack Obama took his oath of office. They wiped away tears, broke into applause — and munched on popcorn — as he was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

Missourians marked Obama's presidential inauguration with gatherings at bars, movie theaters, businesses and concert halls. Several spots with large TVs were hosting watch parties to celebrate the Democrat's swearing-in. Nighttime celebrations included black-tie balls and hip-hop parties.

Whole families turned out at the St. Louis Science Center to watch the inauguration on a giant Omnimax movie screen. Some parents took their children out of school, saying they wanted them to witness history.

Angela Wallace Little, 35, of O'Fallon, Mo., brought her sons Jordan and Justin Little, 9 and 4, to the science center, where about 200 people claimed free tickets to watch the inauguration on the four-story screen.

She wanted her boys to see "the first man of color" sworn-in as president, she said. She said Jordan would present a paper to his class about the inauguration when he returned to school.

"I wanted to experience the beginning of the greatness our county is going to be," said Little. "It's an exciting time. You can feel the change in the air."

In the St. Louis suburb of Normandy, the roughly 60 people who viewed the inauguration from two televisions inside Afroworld wept and chanted during the lead-up, then fell silent as Obama took the oath of office.

The 40-year-old business sells African art, clothing, gifts and other items, and raised thousands of dollars in sales of hats, posters and all things Obama for his presidential campaign.

"This is magnificent," Sandy Crofton, a 49-year-old janitor from St. Louis, said. "I think about Medgar Evers, Dr. King, my grandmother and mom. I'm a bag of emotions," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. "This is a pivotal point. It's monumental."

Crofton said her grandmother, a sharecropper's daughter, had shared stories with her grandchildren about racism she endured in her native Boonville, Miss.

Leroy Rice, 78, a retired security officer from Venita Terrace, watched with the perspective of someone who'd once been an activist in the civil rights movement, having marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Cleveland in the early 1960s.

He felt Obama's election was predestined, designed by God, he said.

"This president is our Joshua," he said, referring to a biblical figure said to have conquered the land of Canaan. "He'll lead us into the promised land."

Before the oath was spoken, Eileen Hall, 54, of Ferguson, wept quietly as musicians Yo-Yo Ma on cello along with Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet performed the new work composed by John Williams, "Air and Simple Gifts," which recalls the classic Shaker piece, "Simple Gifts."

"Oh, a Shaker tune," Hall said. "We've got some peace people there. My great-grandmother was a Quaker. She would be pleased."

Store owner Sheila Little had never before advertised her political views, out of deference to customers with opposing opinions. But after meeting Obama in 2007, she could not help herself, and hosted a watch party.

"We just had to do it," she said.

She organized voter registration drives, hosted canvassing meetings, held an art auction and sold Obama memorabilia. The proceeds went to his campaign.

Some attending the watch events wore newly purchased inauguration T-shirts, like one featuring the faces of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Afroworld was selling a special edition of The St. Louis American, a weekly newspaper targeted to African-Americans. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also offered an extra edition on the inauguration Tuesday afternoon at outlets where the newspaper is normally sold.


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