Millions of people gathered in Washington D.C. Tuesday to witness an historic event — the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.
Among the millions at the National Mall to witness the event was Henry County District Court Judge Jerry D. Crosby II and his wife Adrienne.
“I don’t think it could be anything but memorable,” he said Friday morning, “just because of the logistics of putting that many people in that space. I’ll be able to say ‘I survived the inauguration.’”
Crosby said he was happy with the election’s outcome. “I had hoped it would happen,” he said, “but, I can’t go so far as to say as I expected it.”
He said the job ahead would be daunting for the new administration.
“Obviously, there are a number of issues and challenges,” he said, “...the economy, Afghanistan and Iraq, and our diminished status in the world, plus civil liberties and even civil rights still need progress.”
The changes won’t occur quickly, Crosby said.
“It will take time to address all of the issues on (Obama’s) plate,” he said, “and some things will take precedence over others.”
Crosby expressed confidence in the bipartisan team the new president has assembled.
“I am impressed with the number of cabinet appointments of people he disagrees with,” he said. “It’s very important to be able to listen to dissenting opinions.”
Crosby said it also will be important for people to understand that some things may have to wait.
“Some campaign promises are going to have to take a back seat,” he said, “to the collapse of our economy, whether the United States can even be preserved.”
Crosby said he is encouraged and hopeful that the new president’s programs will have a positive effect locally.
“I hope there will be more jobs, particularly in Henry County,” he said, “and help for lifelong farmers.”
For others in the community, the inauguration of the nation’s first black president is a pinnacle in history and in the civil rights movement.
Eminence’s Rev. W. H. Goatley shared his knowledge of the past and hope for the future.
Goatley is 78-years-old, and the retired minister of First Baptist Church in Eminence. “I’ve seen Eminence become a model city,” he said. “I’ve been here for 50 years and was pastor of First Baptist Church for 45.”
The historic election of a black man is the high point of a long, hard climb for equality. “We’ve dreamed of it, we had the dream of Martin Luther King” he said. “This is the fulfillment of the dream of Martin Luther King and the hope of a nation.”
Goatley came to Henry County in 1958. “Fifty years ago when I came to this community, it was a typical white and black community,” he said. Change began in 1954, when the Supreme Court of the United States made the decision to desegregate schools in the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education, Topka, Kansas. “I know what the whole struggle for integration of schools and public accommodations was about,” Goatley said.
Goatley said that in 1958, black people still were not allowed to sit in a restaurant and order food. “In this town, black people had to go the back door for a sandwich,” he said. Goatley said when public places were forced to integrate, local business owners still fought. “Soda fountains took their stools out so black people couldn’t sit down,” he said. “That’s what this city and county were like.”
Goatley said, however, that Eminence changed before the rest of Henry County. “It was the most progressive city in this county,” he said. Restaurants, stores, businesses and eventually even industry began opening their doors to the black population. “Now they don’t restrict themselves to one race of people,” he said.
Goatley said churches in Eminence have an excellent track record of working together for the common good. “For 50 years we have cooperated and held interchangeable services on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “That is not true of many other cities in Kentucky.” Eminence churches have integrated to a degree. “There are churches in this community that have a lot of salt. Ours has a lot of pepper and a sprinkle of salt,” he said.
For Goatley, Obama’s election is proof that the United States has made a real change in its perceptions. “You and I know that in one year, Obama has brought about such a change in this nation that he was elected with a two-thirds vote,” he said. “It is a miraculous change.”
Goatley believes the Obama administration will not only reshape Eminence and the United States, but the entire world. “Obama will become a world figure,” he said. “I see nothing but hope for the nation, but it’s also coming to Eminence.”
Goatley understands it has been harder for some to accept the idea of a black man as president. “Some people have looked forward to this change, while others have adapted to the reality of needed change,” he said. “He’s going to bring changes to Eminence, not without conflict, but I’m optimistic.”
Eminence Christian Church pastor Rev. Sharon Fields likened the incoming administration to people who represented hope to Americans during the Great Depression.
“I once read that during the Great Depression, two people in our nation exemplified the spirit of ‘confidence and hope’ that our country so desperately needed at that time,” she said. “One of those persons was President Franklin Roosevelt, who, with his ‘fireside radio broadcasts,’ his economic programs and his ‘goofy grin,’ helped to keep Americans focused on what everyone hoped would be brighter days to come.” Fields said the other person was an actress. “She sang, danced, and won the hearts of everyone,” she said. “Through her movies, Shirley Temple provided a means by which people could escape from their desperate situations for a little while.”
Fields explained the similarities. “Mr. Obama is no Roosevelt nor is he Shirley Temple,” she said, “but, he does exemplify what they had - confidence and hope.”
Fields said she believes eventually Henry County will reap the benefits of his intended programs. “It will take awhile for his programs to ‘trickle down’ to Henry County and the rest of the country,” she said, “but, in the meantime, he has generated what I think we all need, a new focus, and a new sense of hope.”
Henry County Judge Executive John Logan Brent looked at Obama’s inauguration from a more government oriented perspective and cautioned that Obama’s task is monumental.
“I certainly don’t envy his position at this time in our country,” he said.
Brent said he read a poll listing respondent’s top five issues facing the new president — the economy, health care, the environment, Iraq and immigration. “Just one would have been a full plate,” he said, “ and they all need attention.” Brent believes Obama’s enthusiasm and energy would be crucial to his success. “He is a historic president facing historic challenges,” he said.
Brent said Obama also represents firsts on many fronts. “He’s not just the first president of color, he’s the first of his generation,” he said, “and the first with children while in office in a long time.”
Brent believes Obama has the whole nation riveted. “Whether they voted for him or for McCain, the public is intrigued,” he said.
The impact of the new presidency will be felt in Henry County — Brent said a $350,000,000 stimulus package would trickle down to county levels. “If that money is divided up between the states, Kentucky would get a significant proportion,” Brent said. “We could sure put it to work.”
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