Barack Obama's inauguration has extraordinary meaning for Brenda Hardy and she'll be there to witness history.
On Tuesday, at 11 a.m. Central Time, Obama will take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States.
He will also be the first African-American president in the nation’s 220-year history.
Eunice High School guidance counselor Hardy will be one of the 1.5 to 4 million people expected to be in attendance, having picked up her inauguration ticket from the office of Congressman Charles Boustany on Wednesday.
Hardy will be seated in the handicapped section behind the reflecting pool at the National Mall.
For Hardy, the event will have special significance. In 1952, her grandmother, Gertie Lawson, was one of the first three African Americans to vote in St. Landry Parish since Reconstruction ended in the 19th century.
Hardy will have a picture of her grandmother with her as she watches Obama’s inauguration.
Hardy herself marched during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, and took part in sit-ins and demonstrations while a student at Xavier University in New Orleans.
During that time, Hardy said, she never imagined she’d see an African American president.
“We were just marching for equality, we weren’t even thinking about that,” Hardy said.
“I’ve always told my children they can be whatever they want to be. My father always told us we could be anything we want to be. But we never told them they could grow up to be president. There never was a role model for that.
“Now I can tell my grandchildren that they can even grow up to be president, because there will have been a role model for that. Barack Obama has shown that it can be done,” Hardy commented.
Hardy’s sister, Sheila Mouton, could barely contain her excitement over Obama’s impending inauguration.
“Being a former history teacher, I’m so blessed to be here, living through these historic times,” Mouton said.
“I’m so excited; if anyone still wonders if Dr. King’s dream is still alive, this is their answer,” said Mouton, who graduated from the first integrated class at Eunice High School, in the spring of 1970.
St. Landry Parish schools integrated in the fall of 1969, and the parish is still involved in a federal desegregation case that has lasted over 40 years.
For retired teacher and civil rights activist Clifton Lemelle, Obama’s election is a continuation of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birth and life’s work is commemorated in a national holiday on Monday and in a parade and special ceremony in Eunice today.
“King stirred up a movement, bringing all people together for the benefit of humanity, and Obama has brought people together of all races and socio-economic backgrounds, in the commonality of man,” Lemelle said.
Asked if during the time of the Civil Rights movement if he ever believed he’d see an African American president in his lifetime, Lemelle said, “I’ll be honest with you; no, I didn’t. When I saw Obama and his family step up onto that podium on election night, I cried, reflecting on my grandparents, my parents, my sisters, all those who have gone before, the humiliation they all went through.”
“When I raised my kids, I told them they could be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, but I never told them they could be president. Now I can tell my grandkids that,” Lemelle said.
Eunice Alderwoman Marguerite Frugé-Simpson, the first African American woman to sit on the city council, also said that Obama’s election is a sign of hope for future generations of all races.
“I think that there’s a possibility that people can be whatever they want to be, and I think we’ve reached that point, and I think it lets the younger people know that there’s no limit as to what they can achieve,” Frugé-Simpson said.
For Carlton Frank, of Frank Brothers Funeral Home in Eunice, the historic significance has not been lost.
“It’s been 40 years since the day Dr. King was assassinated, but the amazing thing is that his dream for all people is still alive,” said Frank, who serves as Master of Ceremonies for the annual city celebration of Dr. King’s birth, adding, “Barack Obama, he is the dream that Dr. King dreamed.”
“We made history, the United States made history, with his election.”
Ardessie Francois, also a retired teacher, noted the significance of the symbols Obama is using in his swearing-in, as well as the fortuitous circumstance that it falls the day after the national holiday celebrating King’s birth.
“Barack Obama is using the Bible once owned by Abraham Lincoln, who passed legislation to end slavery, in order to show the history that’s behind it all. All of this is tying in.”
Francois said she didn’t believe that she’d see an African American president in her lifetime.
“No, it was a dream, but the reality, I didn’t think it was possible. My grandfather would have said it’s not possible. My father would have said it’s possible, but not likely. My children would say, sure, it’s possible. Now my grandchildren will say, it happened,” Francois said.