Meridian Star

Presidential Inauguration 2009

January 18, 2009

Historic moment  reminder of civil rights work

News Analysis

Small towns are often known by the celebrities, athletes and the war heroes they produce -- their names emblazoned on streets, buildings and parks; tales of their success fodder for coffee shop conversations.

But occasionally small towns are remembered for ordinary people who demonstrate great courage in the face of an unpopular cause. It is their life, and most times death, that makes us thankful their roots were established in our back yard.  We come to take them for granted.

In short, we forget. 

And in so doing, their voice is silenced.

Meridian has plenty of ordinary folk who showed uncommon courage in building a better community. Chief among them is James Earl Chaney, a Meridian civil rights activist and martyr. He gave his life for equality at a time when few spoke out against racial injustice.

This week in Washington, D. C., when Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th president, local civil rights advocates will find it an especially momentous occasion. Four-plus decades of hopes and dreams will come to fruition. The first black person in the history of the United States will occupy the White House.

Rev. Charles Johnson, a former civil rights worker who once advised Chaney, is among the few still alive in Meridian who was deep in the struggle of the 1960s. Johnson said Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday will be an emotional time for him.

"I never thought I'd ever live to see this day," said Johnson.

It will also bring back memories of a time when Mississippi was a different place, and a group of courageous people were fighting just to vote, Johnson said. It will serve to remind him of people like James Chaney.

Chaney was cultivated in the Meridian Public School District and traveled the south with his father, working as a plasterer to support his family. 

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Presidential Inauguration 2009
  • images_sizedimage_029114005 Inauguration: view from a local student Lindsey Summerlin is a senior at West Lauderdale. In the fall she was invited to be a part of Inauguration 2009 with Presidential Classrooms. Below are her journal entries from her time in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Barack Obama. Lindsey is the daughter of Jeff and Ginger Summerlin.

    January 29, 2009 2 Photos

  • images_sizedimage_017153128 Inauguration Blog 8 p.m. 8 p.m.:

    That was a pretty neat interview. I was talking to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in his Russell Senate Building office on the fourth floor (Room 487 to be exact) when he got a message on his Blackberry: it was time to vote to confirm Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state, which he voted yes on.

    January 21, 2009 7 Photos

  • CHANGE Ready to Lead WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Barack Obama swore the presidential oath of office Tuesday, sunlight broke through soft stray clouds over the south side of the U.S. Capitol and shone directly on the nation’s 44th president and the estimated 2 million chilled spectators determined to witness his historic ceremony.

    The roar from a sea of people that stretched as far back as the Lincoln Memorial, despite temperatures in the teens, echoed in waves back to the steps of the Capitol each time Obama's image appeared on massive television screens throughout the National Mall.

    January 21, 2009 1 Photo

  • HAPPY MOMENT Scenes from Washington WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was easy to get lost in the sea of people that overflowed the U.S. Capital on Monday — the grounds swelled with tens of thousands of people of all races, of all ages, of every socioeconomic status, and from every corner of the world.

    Despite the many differences easily visible through the crowds, their commonalities seemed far more obvious.

    It was the day Ronald Reagan first set aside as Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader — and the day before the nation gains its first black president. Barack Obama will be sworn in on the Capitol’s front steps this morning to become America’s 44th president.

    January 20, 2009 4 Photos

  • images_sizedimage_019004654 Couple readies for inauguration While Richard Kelly is witnessing America’s first African-American president taking office Tuesday, the Meridian man’s thoughts will go back to 1964.

    Kelly was 10 years old, and those leading a fledgling push for civil rights were registering black voters. Kelly was there, in Meridian’s First Union Baptist Church on 38th Avenue, when civil rights workers sought refuge in the house of worship. His most vivid memory: James Chaney and Michael Schwerner hiding out in the church's attic.

    "They weren't sleeping, they were on watch," Kelly said.

    January 18, 2009 3 Photos

  • JSU Orchestra to perform for President-elect in D.C.

    January 18, 2009

  • images_sizedimage_018010214 Enjoying the Moment

    January 18, 2009 1 Photo

  • Historic moment  reminder of civil rights work Small towns are often known by the celebrities, athletes and the war heroes they produce -- their names emblazoned on streets, buildings and parks; tales of their success fodder for coffee shop conversations.

    January 18, 2009

  • images_sizedimage_018005928 Local attendees excited about inauguration The event of the decade is happening this week — and a few lucky East Mississippi residents will get to go.

    Some, like Meridian's Frances Roscoe, will take a daylong trip on a bus to watch the swearing-in, then get back on the bus and drive all the way back.

    January 17, 2009 1 Photo

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