Inauguration is personal for area residents


Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:24 p.m.

As Cynthia Mingo, 66, and her husband G.W., 69, drove from Gainesville to Washington to watch the first black president take the oath of office, they couldn't help but remember what that same road trip had been like in the 1960s.

The couple, who are black, were returning from Germany, where G.W. Mingo had been stationed in the Army. They made the 16-hour drive to Florida without stopping because hoteliers still embraced segregation.

"And if you did stop you didn't feel safe," said Cynthia Mingo, from Washington. "You'd push a dresser or a chair up against the door."

This year the couple, married for 35 years, and their grown daughter made the drive to watch the nation's highest glass ceiling shatter.

Along with an estimated 2 million people, the Mingos will stand for hours in the cold weather today outside the nation's Capitol complex, partaking in a moment of history.

For Cynthia Mingo, Barack Obama is the embodiment of more than four decades of improvement.

"Because of the things that I had experienced in the '60s, when things were so horrible, I just didn't think change was possible," said Mingo, who was a teacher in Gainesville. "To see the fruits of some of the things we had done, to try to make this change, is incredible."

The Mingos were unable to get tickets into the inauguration - only a limited number were available through the offices of the nation's senators and representatives.

"We're going to get as close as possible," she said. "I've got little shoe heaters, my hat and gloves, we're going to be standing for a while."

Like many of the local residents who made the trip, the Mingos attended a social event hosted by local attorney Christopher Chestnut.

"We saw so may Gainesvillians it was just like home in Washington," Mingo joked.

Among those they saw were Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan and City Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa.

"Today, you could really feel the pulse of folks," said Hanrahan after a day of events on Sunday. "This is a partisan crowd. If you were not a supporter of Barack Obama, you are gone. The folks who are here to celebrate this event feel like it's a huge opportunity for the nation to come together and bring to be a sense of leadership in the world ... there's very much this sense of 'praise the Lord.' "

County Commissioner Rodney Long was in Washington on Sunday with his wife and three children.

"Certainly, there's no doubt a spirit of Obama mania in the nation's capital with everyone excited about the big event (today)," Long said.

His family attended the concert Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial and planned to spend Monday picking up inauguration tickets in U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns' office and participating in celebrations for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"It's exciting for me because all of us, as a family, we participated in all the political process this last year-and-a-half," Long said. "Now, to actually get together and bring it to a conclusion by attending an inauguration is unbelievable.

"Never in my lifetime, and even in their lifetime," he said, referring to his children, "did we think we would see the inauguration of an African-American president."

Ester Tibbs, the longtime administrator for District 3, Department of Children and Families, based in Gainesville, spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteering in Washington, D.C. She fed the homeless downtown as part of a national day of service.

And although Tibbs has long dedicated her services to bettering the lives of children in the area, the festivities around the inauguration have had an impact on her.

"I'm just a driven person, but I think for African-Americans this is really a challenge to all of us to put our best foot forward," Tibbs said. "We want to do our part to help him. It's a call for each one of us as individuals to do the best that we can."

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