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January 18, 2009

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, January 18, 2009

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

Forty-five years ago, Rev. Thurman O. Echols Jr. was arrested as he fought for civil rights in his hometown of Danville.

On Tuesday, he will be in Washington, D.C., to witness something he fought for come to fruition with the inauguration of the nation's first black president.

Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Axton, will leave for Washington with two busloads of people from the church at midnight the night before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office.

Echols said he never has attended a presidential inauguration before, but he wanted "to be present, to be a part of that historic moment."

Echols was part of another historic moment as a teenager. On June 10, 1963, "little did we know that we were making history," he said.

On that day, "Bloody Monday," Echols had just turned 16 when he led 60 high school students in a civil rights march to the steps of the Danville courthouse. He and two others were arrested, as were his parents for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Police beat the remaining protesters with nightsticks and turned high-pressure hoses on them.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Danville twice that year, and Echols saw him speak both times. He never met King, but the civil rights leader's words still resonate.

"Martin Luther King Jr. once said he had a dream that one day his four children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," Echols said. "I think we have seen that coming full circle with (Barack) Obama being elected.

"Obama has connected the generations" and shown that "people of all races can work together," he said.

Echols and the other bus-riders do not have tickets to Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony, but "we're going to try to get as close as possible," he said.

Tickets to the ceremony were hard to get, but Tony Millner and Mersdesea Shelton landed a pair through 5th District Rep. Tom Perriello's office. Members of Congress were in charge of distributing the 240,000 tickets and were flooded with requests.

Millner and Shelton said they planned to leave for the city today and stay with a friend who lives a mile from the Capitol Building.

"I feel great" about going, said Millner, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "I can tell my grandkids and great-grandkids that I was there."

"I'm very excited," Shelton said, especially because she and her cousin Nancy Preston volunteered with the local Obama campaign. "We really enjoyed every minute of it."

Campaign volunteers

"We worked very hard" to elect Obama, said fellow campaign volunteer Alfred Hairston, who will be driving one of the buses leaving from Moral Hill to attend his first inauguration.

"I did a lot of knocking on doors for Perriello and Obama," Hairston said. "It just goes to show if you get out there and vote, anything can happen."

The bus will arrive in Washington around 8 a.m. Tuesday, he said. Roads into the capital will be closed to personal vehicles, but buses will be allowed to park at RFK Stadium. People can then take the Metro to the day's events.

Hairston said he is "a little nervous" about traffic from the estimated 1 to 2 million people expected to attend the inauguration.

Regardless, he added, "it's going to be real interesting. I hope it'll be a wonderful evening."

Another volunteer was not old enough to vote for Obama in November, but she still did her part to help elect him. Now, 15-year-old Rebecca Moore and her mother, Dr. Elizabeth Moore, will get to see that work pay off.

Rebecca spent the summer making phone calls to potential voters, her mother said. Because of that, "she really wanted to go (to the inauguration). She's so excited, she just can't stand it," Elizabeth Moore said.

The two were scheduled to drive up Friday and stay with friends outside the city, where Elizabeth Moore lived for 12 years. This will be the first inauguration for both, "even though I lived there," she said. "I always figured I could stay home and watch it on TV and be warm."

However, this year is different because "it is such a unique inauguration, such a big change for our country," Elizabeth Moore said. "It'll be an adventure for sure."

Part of history

This is the first time many local residents will attend a presidential inauguration. Most said the significance of Obama's election prompted them to go this year.

Myla Hairston said she "never had the desire to go to one before."

"I really don't like crowds and don't like traveling," Hairston said, adding that she is "not all that interested in politics."

However, Obama's election makes this inauguration different, she said.

"Just the fact that I'm going to be there at this historical event is awesome," Hairston said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Hairston, a nurse at Memorial Hospital, plans to drive up today and stay with a sister in Maryland, just across the border from Washington.

Now, the problem is deciding what to wear. Hairston will attend an Africa-themed inaugural ball at the Gaylord Hotel in Oxon Hill, Md., on Tuesday night with her sister and brother-in-law, a Maryland state senator.

Obama has been invited to the ball, Hairston said, and she has heard there is "a real possibility that he will attend."

"I'm hoping I get a little glimpse," she said.

Even though she will be near the nation's capital Tuesday, Hairston will watch the inauguration ceremony on TV from her sister's house.

"I didn't have any interest in going to the swearing-in ceremony," she said. "It's down at the (National) Mall, it's going to be really crowded, and you're going to be watching it on big-screen TVs anyway."

People without tickets to the ceremony will gather on the Mall, where jumbo TVs will broadcast the event.

Hairston said she plans to watch the parade in person and probably go to the Martin Luther King Day events Monday, as well.

"I know it's going to be cold. I've got all the appropriate clothing items so I can stay warm," Hairston said. "I'm just praying that it doesn't do any snowing or icing."

Husband and wife Sonny and Juanita Richardson made plans to attend more than a year ago, but they said they would not have gone if Republican candidate John McCain had won.

When Obama first announced he was running for president, their daughter Pamela Greenfield asked her parents if they wanted to go and made reservations.

Obama's victory shows that "all things are possible with God," Juanita Richardson said, adding that it fulfills Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.

"A change has come, and the dream has come true, also. This is not just for black people; this is for all colors," she said.

The couple will drive up Monday, meet their daughter and other relatives and stay in Alexandria.

"I can't explain in words how excited I am," Juanita Richardson said. "I'm looking forward to a joyous time, just to witness this great event."

And though they do not have tickets to the ceremony, she has a goal for the trip.

"I plan to get a picture with Obama," Juanita Richardson said.

Pastor Alan Preston of Refuge Temple Church will have a bus of 25 to 30 people heading to Washington on Tuesday. It will be the first inauguration for most of them, he said.

"Now that we're having the first African-American president, we feel that we should go and celebrate with him," Preston said.

They will leave in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, stay for the swearing-in and leave Tuesday afternoon to try and beat the traffic, Preston said.

Martha Holland, who is going to the event with a tour group out of Greensboro, has traveled to an inauguration in the past.

"I've always voted Democratic, but I went up for George H.W. Bush just to see what the inauguration was like," Holland said. "Of course, it was nothing like this is going to be."

When Obama won the election, she said there was no question that she would attend.

"I just love Obama. I haven't been this interested in a candidate since Bobby Kennedy," Holland said. "I'm just thrilled to death, frankly. I couldn't stay away."

Husband and wife Claude and Ann Hobson are going with another Greensboro tour group, but they made up their minds to go before they knew the election results.

"We were going, regardless of whether (Obama) won," Claude Hobson said, because "we'd never been to an inauguration before."

Their day trip will involve "watching the ceremony, the parade, and whatever is taking place," he said. "We're excited. I think it'll be interesting to see."

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