Black Leaders React to Obama's Inauguration

MLK Jr.'s sister says she's 'amazed' at how far the country has come.

January 20, 2009, 2:35 PM

Jan. 20, 2009 — -- As the nation swore in its first black president today, many leaders of the civil rights movement came to the nation's capital to witness firsthand an event they never thought they'd see in their lifetimes.

And there was nowhere else they'd rather be.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the inauguration "a fabulous day for all Americans.

"I'm not ashamed to say, in fact I'm proud to say, I was tearing up just like everybody else," Powell told ABC News. "What can one say about a day [like] today is it was a day of celebration of American democracy, a celebration of a new start."

Right before the ceremony began, basketball star Magic Johnson spoke about how proud he was as a black man to witness the inauguration of President Obama.

"It shows how America has really grown and progressed," said Johnson. "Emotions are running high for me and every American but especially myself as an African-American."

"I'm so proud and happy," he said.

Amid chants of "Obama! Obama!" filmmaker Spike Lee paused to speak about what the swearing in meant to him.

"A lot," said Lee. "It took many hundreds of years to get to this point in history for this country."

"This is a celebration, and I'm just glad to be here," he said, donning layers of winter gear and explaining that "history will keep him warm."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s 81-year-old sister, Christine King Farris, traveled from her home in Atlanta to attend Obama's inauguration, an event she knows will leave her filled with emotion.

"I am so excited," said Farris, who is a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta. "It is an occasion that means a lot to me, but I'm also reminiscing about my brother who predicted that this would happen one day."

Watch live coverage of the Inauguration all day today beginning with "Good Morning America" at 7 a.m. ET and go to the Inauguration Guide for all of ABC News' coverage details.

Farris told ABC News she didn't think she would live to see the day where a black man was elected president.

"One of us has been able to take the highest office in our country," said Farris. "It's just amazing. I'm just so thankful."

But with her excitement comes some sadness, as Farris said she couldn't help but think of her brother and all he did to fight for equality.

Farris gets emotional when she thinks of how much her brother would have liked to be with her today watching Obama take the oath of office.

"The inauguration will be very emotional for me," said Farris. "I can't help but think of my brother and all that he fought for and really gave his life for."

While Farris recognizes the huge strides the country has made in terms of battling racism, she still says that her brother's dream has not been fully realized -- even as Obama makes the Oval Office his own.

Another Step Toward Equality

"Yes, the country has elected a black man as president, but we still have racial problems," said Farris.

"All of our problems have not been solved -- we still have challenges to face -- but this [inauguration] has certainly made a big dent," she said. "This is the 'beloved community' that my brother spoke of.

"I think this inauguration means that minorities can now be respected for who they are, and not have to take a backseat because of the color of their skin or their origins, or what have you," she continued.

Poet and author Maya Angelou, whose health kept her from traveling to the inauguration, also agrees that Obama's election signals that our country is maturing.

"We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism. It takes a long time. But we are growing up," she said.

Angelou said she will watch the inaugural events from her home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"I will be following every step, every nuance, every shade and shadow of the inauguration," Angelou said.

Obama Presidency Instills Hope in Black Leaders

Andrew Young, a civil rights activist and former mayor of Atlanta, traveled to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration with his wife and daughters and grandchildren.

"I'm going, hoping and praying that it's true when Obama says, 'Yes, we can,'" said Young, who, as editor in chief for the online magazine Root will also host a star-studded gala this evening.

Despite attending several inaugurations in his lifetime -- Young was in Howard University's ROTC as a 16-year-old during Harry Truman's inaugural in 1949, which he remembers as the day he "almost froze to death" -- he is certain that today's will be different.

"I went to Nixon's second inauguration. I was at Jimmy Carter's inaugural and one of Clinton's," said Young. "But this one is so special."

"It's special largely because it's more like the inaugural of Franklin Roosevelt, because everything is in such disarray and there's such a demand for visionary leadership," Young said.

Young said that when he marched in Truman's inauguration, Washington, D.C., was still segregated. That segregation, recalled Young, may have contributed to the death of a fellow classmate, an event that, to this day, reminds him just how much the country has changed.

"One of my classmates was killed -- hit by an automobile outside the Smithsonian -- and had to be driven across town to a black hospital," said Young. "I have to believe that he would have lived if he'd gotten to a hospital faster.

"I'm consciously aware of how much we've changed and how much the American people have grown," he said.

"This is not the same nation -- thank God -- that I grew up in."

For those unable to travel to the capital today, inauguration festivities within the black community are occurring all over the country.

At Morehouse College in Atlanta, the only all-male historically black college in the nation, students can view the ceremony together and may also attend a ball of their own later this evening.

Similarly, Obama's alma mater, Columbia University in New York City, is also hosting an outdoor viewing of the event.

And for those who want to follow the festivities from the comfort of their own home, Black Entertainment Television will broadcast ongoing coverage of the inauguration for the first time.

ABC News' Jennifer Parker contributed to this report.

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