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Inaugural Flashbacks

by Jo Freeman

Senator Barack Obama stepped forward and put his hand on the Lincoln Bible.

Date: July 1965
Place: Newberry, South Carolina
Action: Southern Christian Leadership Conferences SCOPE project registered 253 Negroes, bringing total registration in the county to an all time high. Two local Negroes decide to run for local office in the September primary.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said, Senator, are you ready to take the oath?

Date: 2:00 a.m. on my 20th birthday
Place: Dorchester Community Center, McIntosh, Georgia
Action
: I sat in the office typing letters to my friends. This was where SCLC held its Citizenship Education Schools to train people to teach others how to read and how to correctly fill out the lengthy and complicated voter registration forms. The Georgia form contained 30 questions of which 20 had to be answered correctly. Among those 30 questions were: "Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia and who is the presiding judge of that court?" (Not the same person.) "What are the names of the Federal District Judges of Georgia" and "What is treason against the State of Georgia." I was typing on voter registration test forms for other states that only a month ago were used as part of our training. Now, thanks to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they were scratch paper.

I do solemnly swear

Date: January 21, 1966
Place: Birmingham, Alabama
Action
: Headlines blare that the Dept. of Justice will order federal registrars to Jefferson County to register Negro voters. SCLC had been tying up traffic with demonstrations to get the Federal Government to pay attention. We had finally succeeded. My job that day was to collect the names of all the blacks standing in line to register to vote at the Jefferson County Courthouse. After about four hours on my feet I sat down on the floor, all benches having been removed, in an alcove to rest. I was immediately arrested for "disturbing the peace" and placed into solitary confinement until tried and found guilty five days later. This was a retaliation arrest for the registrars.

that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,

Date: May 31, 1966
Place: Macon County, Alabama
Action
: Run-off primary. Spent the day bringing people to the polls. By the time the votes were counted, Lucius Amerson was elected the first black sheriff in the South since reconstruction. He served for 20 years.

and will to the best of my ability,

Date: June 16, 1966
Place: Grenada, Mississippi
Action
: The Meredith Mississippi March** rallied at the courthouse on our way to Jackson. Hoping to avoid trouble, county officials hired six Negroes to register Grenada Negroes to vote. After the march passed through, a dozen SCLC staffers stayed to start a project.

preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.

Editor's Note:

*Joseph Lowery, who delivered the benediction at President Barack Obama's Inaugural, was President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during 1977-1997. He began the benediction with words from the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing:

"God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears
... "

** Photos of the Meredith Mississippi March by Jo Freeman

The full text and video of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Speech

©January 20, 2009 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomenWeb

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