The big screen in Columbus State University’s University Hall switched from Fox News coverage of the first black U.S. president’s inauguration to a slideshow that with background music at first played the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. and then that of Barack Obama.
The flow of images showed the twisted bodies of black men lynched and burned; a photo of Emmett Till, the black 14-year-old brutally murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman in 1955; portraits of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and Obama.
It was 11:15 a.m., with Obama’s swearing-in still about 45 minutes minutes away, when Patavious Sorrell of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity welcomed about 100 students who’d come to watch this dramatic turn in American history.
“Soon to be President Barack Obama has given us an opportunity,” said Sorrell, who took turns addressing the audience along with Gabriel Hicks. “He’s given us an opportunity to look deeply into the eyes of our children, sisters, brothers, and friends, and tell them anything is possible. Now this is the same sentiment that we have probably expressed sometime before; except when we say it this time, somehow it’s different. When we say it this time we can say it with an overpowering confidence that can still the most timid man’s hands.”
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About 50 more students came as local NAACP President Bill Madison, who earned the nickname “Wild Bill” while serving in the Army in Vietnam, told them: “Write down your vision and follow it, and you will conquer the world.” He urged them to live by the words, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
Students stood and cheered when Obama was introduced, and cheered again when he sought to dispel America’s "nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”
The new president then asserted: "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America, they will be met."
Among those listening was Ashley Smith, 22, a senior majoring in political science.
Obama’s ascent to the presidency in such troubled times gives young people hope and resolve, she said.
“I think we’re going to have some challenges ahead of us, but we’re not going to let them defeat us,” she said.
Arranging the CSU event along with Omega Psi Phi was the Firm Grip Music Group, an independent media and community service organization.
In the university's library, about 100 people crowded around a TV set out for the occasion, shared coffee and doughnuts and showed similar enthusiasm, said Cynthia Fears, the head of circulation.
She said a few people came as early as 10 a.m. to watch the ceremony, but as the time for Obama's inaugural speech neared, "it just filled up."
As in University Hall, Obama's introduction was greeted with cheers and applause, she said.