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By CINDY SIMPSON
A sense of pride and hope overwhelmed the auditorium at Harriman’s Jamieson Community Center Tuesday.
The building — once the home of a segregated Roane County school — was now filled with people celebrating the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president.
“This is an historic moment for me, something I thought would never happen, something I dreamed about my whole life,” said Judy Anderson of Harriman.
Her husband, Spencer, took a vacation day so he could witness the inauguration.
“It means we, as a people have come a tremendous way,” he said. “We’ve come a long way but still have a long way to go.”
For the Andersons, who have three grandchildren, it is an opportunity to look to younger generations and say with confidence they can accomplish much.
“Right now I feel like I can really tell them they can be anything they want to be,” Judy said.
Tears flowed and a chant of “Obama” filled the room briefly following Obama’s oath of office.
A box of tissues sat at the ready for one group of women. Shirts showing the First Family were in abundance.
Mamie Hamilton was ebullient.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” she said. “I didn’t think I would ever live to see a black president. I didn’t think my children, which the oldest is 30, would live to see it.”
The group responded passionately to the Rev. Rick Warren, who led the invocation in the nation’s capital before Obama was sworn in.
Warren said Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders like him were in heaven shouting.
Many in attendance could remember segregation and the prejudices experienced during that time.
Mary Hickey, a retired school teacher, was a teacher at Jamieson and later at Central Elementary School after integration.
She remembers standing across the street from Harriman High School to catch a bus to go to Campbell High School in Rockwood.
“We’ve come a long way since that time,” Hickey said.
“I just think this is such a great day for the nation and especially African-Americans,” she said. “I’m so glad the good Lord let me live to see it.”
She believes that Obama will give young people something to believe in.
“It will give our young people hope,” Hickey said. “When I was teaching, I was telling them they could be anything they could be; now it is true.”
Roslyn Eskridge, a kindergarten teacher at Walnut Hill Elementary, was also in attendance.
She attended a one-room school at Emory Gap School until the eighth grade, when integration was ordered.
Eskridge said that a colleague at Walnut Hill came to her and said they knew she must be proud that Obama was elected.
She responded that now when she looks into the faces of her school children, regardless of race, she can tell them that “if they work hard, study hard, that they can grow up to be president.”
Thanks to a snow day, many youth were in attendance at the event, including Alexus Moore, a Harriman Middle School student.
She was glad of the chance to share her enthusiasm with others over the election of Obama.
She hasn’t had the same chance at school, she said.
Moore said other students were tearing down Obama things and writing bad comments on them.
She and other students put their Obama items in their lockers to show their pride in Obama.
“Actually, I wanted to skip school today so I could stay at home and watch this,” Moore said.
Alexus’ mother, Barbara Moore, said she wanted to come to Jamieson to be around her people “and for the kids to learn, too.”
“I’m hoping they bring prayer back into the schools and maybe a little black history into the schools,” Moore said.
For her, it was a bittersweet day.
She was proud to witness Obama’s inauguration, but missed her grandfather, Elder Rue Eskridge Sr., former pastor of Phillippi Primitive Baptist Church, who died exactly five years ago to the day.
It is a day she wishes he could have witnessed.
Those at Jamieson see tremendous potential for this presidency, including the uniting of the American people.
“I think this is going to bring people together. We’ve seen it already,” Hickey said.
She referred to Obama’s acceptance speech in Chicago and how good it was for her to see “people of all color and creeds come together.”
Judy Anderson said that people needed to unite around Obama because of the tough times we live in, including war and the economy.
“We, as the United States — not just white man, black man — we as people, are really going to have to get behind our president and keep him lifted up in prayer,” Judy Anderson said.
Some of those gathered at Jamieson Tuesday had family members who attended the inauguration.
Eskridge’s father, James Little, was there with her brother, Mark Little, who works for Homeland Security.
Sara Baylis’ daughter, Nikki, was able to go with members of their church to see the inauguration.
One family, John and Cathy Johnson, were seeing their third swearing-in of the day.
Prior to coming to Jamieson, they witnessed daughter, Kimberly being sworn into the U.S. Air Force.