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Local woman witnesses Obama’s inauguration

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By Chris Sardelli

INDIAN LAND – Vera Witherspoon still can’t believe she witnessed history.

Along with her son and a few cousins, the Indian Land native braved cold temperatures and massive crowds in Washington, D.C., to watch Barack Obama become the 44th president of the United States last month.

“For me to be able to be there and witness this, I never would’ve thought I’d be there,” Witherspoon said. “I knew this day would come, but to be there and to witness this was just an awesome occasion.”

Only days before, Witherspoon, 52, was at home in the Steele Hill area, which she recently moved back to after several years in Charlotte.

She began her trip to Washington on Jan. 17, flying first to New York to meet her son, Monte Witherspoon. They flew to Washington the next day. Once in the nation’s capital, the two stayed with her cousin, Clarence Strain, and his wife, Ruby, who live only three blocks away from the Capitol building.

“We were in the midst of all the action,” Witherspoon said. “That was very exciting.”

On Jan. 19, she and her family toured the National Mall, taking in the sights and shopping for souvenirs at the hundreds of vendors stationed across the area. They ate at several restaurants and watched crews set up the inauguration stage.

On Inauguration Day, they woke up at 5:30 a.m. Adorned in Obama gear, including T-shirts and hats with his name and likeness on them, she and her family walked to the Mall for the celebration. But despite picking their spot the previous day, the crowds had already filled to capacity in that section, and they were forced to stand farther back.

“From where we were, we could see the inauguration stand, but we basically watched it all on the monitors,” she said.

According to reports from the scene, there were between 1 and 2 million people watching the inauguration along with Witherspoon, most watching from the area between the Capitol, the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. Large television screens were set up around the Mall so spectators could watch the new president take the oath of office and hear the president’s speech from far away.

Witherspoon remembers seeing people climbing trees near her, just trying to get a glimpse of the new president. What really impressed her, though, were the large numbers of elderly people in the crowd.

“They didn’t want to miss this,” Witherspoon said. “It was a historical moment.”

She said it was nearly impossible for spectators to attend both the inauguration and the parade that followed, so she just stayed where she was. She and her family were even filmed cheering for the president by a film crew from MSNBC.

“There was a wonderful spirit in the air,” she said. “Just to see all people of different nationalities, different ages, standing together. Everybody was just so happy. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

Witherspoon, who works as a marketing consultant for AT&T and is also an associate minister at El Bethel AME Zion Church, said several other members of her family also attended the inauguration.

Her brother from the Lancaster area, her sister from Atlanta and her niece and nephew all traveled to Washington as well, though they didn’t have a chance to meet while there.

It was only after the celebration was over, and everyone had returned home that she spoke with them to find out how their respective trips went.

Now that she’s had time to reflect on the experience, Witherspoon says she is very impressed with the president and his wife and expects he will be good for the country.

“I do have faith in Obama, that he will stay grounded and rooted and do the right thing for everybody, not just one particular race, or Democrats or Republicans, but for the whole nation,” Witherspoon said.

 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416