When I watched President Obama’s Inauguration on January 21st three thoughts seemed to occupy my mind – my own experiences from 1969, Obama’s humble moments, and the leadership significances of this second inauguration of our only African American president on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Nixon’s Inauguration in 1969
Nixon’s Inauguration in 1969. I had the good fortune of living just outside D.C. in 1969. As a 15 year old Eagle Scout I was an active member of the Knights of Dunamis, which now is the National Eagle Scout Association. I was the chair of the committee that coordinated our volunteer work at President Nixon’s inauguration.
I had two, cool jobs that cold day. First, to be a symbolic greeter in the President’s viewing booth at the parade. I met President and Mrs. Nixon and the three astronauts of Apollo 8 that had just returned from the first trip “around” the moon – Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders. James Lovell, an Eagle Scout himself, was particularly kind to me, I remember. I have a vague memory of meeting Walter Cronkite, too.
Second, I was a “security runner” at the Inaugural Ball held at the Mayflower Hotel. Among my highlights that night was meeting Barbara Eden (of “I Dream of Jeannie” fame), which was a big deal for a young teen at the time.
Humble Moments for President Obama. I was captured this year by the oath of office ceremony, which was very well designed as a television event. When President Obama entered after his wife and daughters, I wondered how I would feel if none of my parents, grandparents, sisters or brothers were alive to watch me be inaugurated as president. I wonder if he thought about that.
What struck me next was what he did after the oath ceremonies concluded. He stood and gazed out over the crowd of 600,000 to 800,000 and looked humbled by the moment. While he chatted with a few people he kept turning his eyes toward the massive crowd with a look of amazement.
A few minutes later after he went up the stairs as part of the exit ceremony, he stopped, stepped aside, let others pass, and again gazed out on the mass of people. He looked like someone who was humbled by the experience and wanted to take it all in. I have to think the first inauguration four years ago was just a blur for him and this time he was greatly aware of the magnitude of the moment. It was nice to see a President appearing humble and appreciating what was going on – that he was extremely blessed.
A Significant Inauguration on Martin Luther King Day. I’m sure you noted the significance of having President Obama’s inauguration, our only African-American president, on Martin Luther King’s birthday. I can only imagine how Dr. King would have felt about this president being re-elected. Americans felt he was the better candidate, again. Without leaders like Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln, so many years ago, I’m not so sure our society would have matured enough to elect President Obama.
President Lincoln led our country through a violent Civil War started by extremists that eventually killed 620,000 Americans on both sides. He had the foresight and leadership to push forward peacefully the passing of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. (I was amazed to read that Mississippi and Kentucky only recently passed the amendment in 1995 and 1976, respectively.)
When I think about Martin Luther King and listen to his I Have a Dream Speech again, I am always humbled. When you think about how badly we treated African Americans, I admire him for pushing his followers to use only peaceful protests, which frustrated many of the more aggressive African American factions. What a terrible irony that Martin Luther King was killed by a white extremist with a rifle.
And now as we move past the inaugural celebration, we once again see a leader in our country, President Obama, trying to use peaceful methods to deal with extremists that want to keep automatic weapons as a right. I hope our society has matured enough to not let them succeed – a leadership lesson being written as I write.