Before the clock strikes noon Monday and Barack Hussein Obama takes to the podium at the U.S. Capitol and again recites the presidential oath of office, moments of reflection on symbolism and substance are in order.
Most of the items on the following list are inaugural-related, historical incidences of fact, while others are did-you-know? tidbits and quotes of interest as the 2013 inauguration intersects Monday’s lone federal holiday honoring a black American, the Rev. Martin Luther King.
Under the category of uber symbolism falls the fact that presidential limos are again sporting red, white and blue D.C. license plates that declare “Taxation Without Representation,” a reflection of the sentiment of many Americans.
What’s scary is that any nut case out there can now all-too-easily distinguish official presidential vehicles.
Even if the plates read “No. 1” it’s highly unlikely the District’s status will change in the foreseeable future.
King, who always trumpeted freedom, would have been 84 years old today as Mr. Obama again stands in the political and cultural cross hairs of the post-civil rights movement. His decision to use of one of King’s personal Bibles as he recites the 35 words of the oath of office could hold great substance if, during his second term, he gives great weight to something King once said:
“I feel someone must remain in the position of nonalignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both — not the servant or master of either.”
A couple of days before Richard M. Nixon’s first inauguration in 1969, James Brown and his 20-member band of renown were highlights of the All-American Gala at the D.C. National Guard Armory, where they performed a call-and-response anthem of the 1960s, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Brown, who supported Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey, got the gig at the invitation of the Nixon camp, whose campaign strategy helped sway Southern and Northern Democrats into the Republican camp.
Brown declined invitations for Nixon’s second time around.
The words and deliberations of Abraham Lincoln have played major roles in the symbolism and substance of the public Barack Obama, who followed Lincoln’s footsteps and kicked off his first presidential run in 2007 at the Old State Capitol State Historic Site, in Springfield, Ill.
To recapture similar Lincoln moments in time, Mr. Obama used the Lincoln Bible at his 2009 swearing-in, and he will use the Lincoln Bible and one from King’s family for Monday’s public ceremony.
But did you know that the so-called Lincoln Bible actually belonged to William Thomas Carroll, who used it for Lincoln’s March 4, 1861, oath because Lincoln had arrived in the nation’s capital for the ceremony but his Bible had not?
The other Lincoln and the other Obama are among “black firsts,” too.
The day after Lincoln’s inauguration, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln summoned a former slave to the White House to query her about dressmaking. The woman, then free and an entrepreneur, was hired as the first black modiste in the White House.
Like Michelle Obama, Mrs. Lincoln was keen on style and fashion, and dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley informed Mrs. Lincoln that her resume included designing dresses and gowns for the fashionable and stylish wives of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
Mrs. Obama will hardly be wearing off-the-rack gowns at either of the official balls on Monday night, but do expect her 2013 dresses to soon join her 2009 gowns and Mrs. Lincoln’s fabulous Keckley-designed purple velvet gown from Lincoln’s second inauguration at the Smithsonian’s first ladies collection.
Of course, there were numerous inaugural-related “firsts,” including the fact that Chief Justice John Marshall administered the first presidential oath of office ever taken in the nation’s capital.
And then there’s “the first among firsts,” George Washington, who was the only Founding Father to free his slaves, is the president who did not live in Washington but is the founding father of the nation’s capital.
He also was a Virginia farmer who grew and promoted the use of marijuana as a soil stabilizer.
Another first: To date he delivered the shortest inaugural address — 135 words.
God and the ancestors, bless America.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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