On a historic presidential inauguration day, the Capitol glows ‘like the moon’

There is darkness outside the window as the chartered bus, bound for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, rolls out of the parking lot of Acme supermarket in Mount Airy.

It’s a little after 2 a.m., and 0n board, about 50 people — grandmothers, business owners, high schoolers, fathers and sons — organized by Northwest Philly for Change, are on their way to D.C., hours away from witnessing history. The bus driver wishes everyone a good morning and cautions: “Patience, I think it is going to be the word of the day.”

As the chartered bus sways through the night, Vernon Price shares a sepia-colored photograph that he pulled from the pocket of his dark suit.

The image is of his grandfather, his father, and Price, smiling, holding his son, and represents four generations of the Price family.

Price, 56, explains: “I wanted them to share in this moment. I know they never thought it could happen, and I want them to share in the dream.”

The photo was taken in 1976, in Woodbine, N.J., outside of Price’s grandfather’s home. His grandfather Frank, a farmer, raised hogs. Price’s father James served in World War II. Both men, Price says, long gone, suffered brutal racism in their day.

Price has stories too. He grew up in North Philly’s battered Richard Allen projects, and got caught up in the tide of gangs. Politics in many ways changed his life. Price has been moved by the possibility ever since 1969 when he ran for student body president at Benjamin Franklin high school.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Price, a ward leader, who lives in Mt. Airy, organized Northwest Philly for Obama. After Obama’s victory, Price seized the momentum through the spinoff called Northwest Philly for Change.

On this early morning, he feels deeply invested in Obama’s candidacy.

“When he puts his hand on that Bible,” Price says of Obama’s swearing in, a moment once generations away, now only mere hours, “I’m going to hold this picture up, so they can witness it.”

After about three hours of steady driving the bus comes to a halt somewhere in Maryland.

“A sea of red lights,” says Eldred Stubbs, 62, of Mount Airy of the brake lights from the cars stopped on the highway before him. The nearby exit sign reads that the Greenbelt Metro Station is closed. Stubbs worked as a volunteer for the Obama campaign seven-days-a week during the run up to the primary and the general elections.

Around 5:15 a.m., everyone points out the window and cheers. Obama’s likeness runs the length of the BET building..

The bus arrives in Washington D.C. As people add on layers to withstand the oncoming hours in the cold, a recording of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come” begins to play over the bus’s sound system..

An hour later, walking to the Capitol the group sings “We Shall Overcome” as the dome in the distance glows like the moon.


By Kia Gregory

The Philadelphia Inquirer

January 20, 2009