Hometown faithful come out to watch, celebrate in Chicago

Caption
(AP)
Juanita Abernathy, widow of civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy, celebrates while watching a live video feed of President Barack Obama’s Inauguration after speaking Monday at the Union League Club of Chicago.

CHICAGO (AP) – In a museum auditorium in President Barack Obama’s hometown, hundreds of people stood and cheered as they watched a live telecast of his inaugural address Monday. Many waved American flags, and some snapped photos of Obama’s image on the screen.

The festivities happening in Washington may not have been as poignant as when he became the nation’s first black president four years ago. But for the Obama faithful gathered in Chicago, not far from his family’s South Side neighborhood and the university where he taught before becoming a U.S. senator, it was still cause for celebration.

“Today is proof positive that history is still being made,” Carol Adams, CEO and president of the DuSable Museum of African American History, told the standing-room only crowd inside the 400-seat auditorium.

Eleven-year-old Francito Riley heard about the event and persuaded his 28-year-old sister, Christina Brownlow, to take him and their 12-year-old nephew.

“I wanted to see black history,” Riley said.

The family lives a few blocks from the Obamas’ Chicago home, and Riley likes to point it out to his friends when they walk by.

“He’ll say ‘That’s where the president lives,’” Bronlow said. “That’s inspiring to the kids, to walk by his house and be able to say ‘If he can do it, so can I.’”

The significance of the inauguration occurring on Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t lost on attendees. Across the city, many organizations combined their King commemorations with inaugural celebrations.

At the Union League Club of Chicago, Juanita Abernathy, the widow of civil rights leader Rev. Ralph Abernathy, addressed a crowd prior to a live viewing of the inauguration.

The Chicago History Museum also combined a viewing party with events honoring King.

“There are no coincidences. I don’t believe there are,” said Alenda Young, 39, of Chicago. “This was exactly what was intended, to show how far we have come in our civil freedoms and in our civil rights.”

Young brought a group of more than 100 young people to view the ceremony at the DuSable museum as part of her work with the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, an organization established by African American college-educated women.

Alana Green, 15, was among the group. She snagged a seat in the front of the auditorium.

“I think it’s pretty nice that our president came from the same place that we came from,” Green said. “I think he’s a pretty good president.”

The day was not without dissention. Several hundred people marched through downtown in support of immigrant rights, calling on Obama to put an end to deportations.

Alfonso Seiva, 16, and his brother Jose Seiva, 14, said the president hadn’t followed through on a promise to help illegal immigrants like their parents become legal.

“If our parents are deported, who are we going to stay with and who are we going to trust?” Jose Seiva said, after his father encouraged him to talk.

“We would be orphans. And there are a lot of other kids like us, too,” Alfonso Seiva added. “You’d have a lot of orphans here, and you don’t want that. So hopefully (Obama) gets the message.”

The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois group that supports gay rights, issued a statement commending Obama for mentioning, alongside other prominent moments in the fight for civil rights, the Stonewall riots of 1969. The demonstrations were against police action on a club frequented by gays, and the riots inspired gay-rights activists across the country to organize.

The group’s executive director, Anthony Martinez, said the president’s words will further inspire people to fight for gay marriage in Illinois and other states.

“It shows that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Americans are no longer fighting to be recognized, but fighting to reach the end of this journey where we will all share the same rights and responsibilities and our families will no longer be marginalized but will be celebrated,” Martinez said.

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