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The Nation Celebrates Obama Inauguration

Barrington Salmon & Sam P.K. Collins | 1/23/2013, 1:02 p.m.

Clarence Meachem stood in front of President Abraham Lincoln's statue in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals, and snapped pictures of the man credited with freeing four million enslaved Africans.

Afterward, Meachem reflected on bearing witness to President Barack Obama's second inauguration.

"I was on the [National] Mall and I thought it was great," said Meachem, 70. "I missed the first inauguration and couldn't miss this one. I have never been through something of this magnitude. He was a godsend and he's doing a good job despite the obstacles."

Meachem, a power plant operator at North Carolina A&T University, said he traveled by bus with a group of 25 from Greensboro, N.C., and after the Inaugural Parade planned to jump back on the bus and head south.

"I never thought I'd see a black president in my lifetime," he said. "[Obama's] election has irreversibly changed the country. His being the first black president is tremendously important. He's done so much but it's gone unnoticed."

January 21st marked the 57th Inauguration, where between 800,000 and one million people crowded the National Mall, despite chilly temperatures. A confident Obama laid out an assured and detailed vision of what he imagines America's future to be.

He took his public oath of office on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, in a year that includes the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

The president called for collective action to deal with issues such as immigration reform, climate change, gun control, equal pay for women and gay rights.

Much of downtown around the Capitol, the Mall and areas along the parade route were shut down, with thousands of police, Army and other security officials manning barricades and barriers. Troop transports, Humvees and an imposing gun metal-colored SWAT vehicle sat on broad, empty streets. Large wire fences, concrete barricades, Metro buses, and helicopters overhead ensured that the day's festivities went off without a hitch.

The overwhelming presence of vendors could not be missed either. They hawked everything from caps, scarves, T-shirts, flags, key rings, calendars and buttons. Enterprising ones even took the day's paper and had it laminated and ready for sale before the swearing in ceremony was over.

A sea of humanity moved from the Mall to the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, decked out in Obama paraphernalia, American flags and a host of other mementos. The pomp, pageantry and majesty of the day's events engendered pride. Tens of thousands of people, standing six and eight deep on the sidewalks, sought out higher ground in an attempt to get a better view. Some climbed statues and trees, others clambered onto embankments or grabbed a spot on steps of buildings such as the National Archives.

Baltimore resident Katie Runkel stood atop a trash can, armed with binoculars waiting for the parade to begin.

"President Obama prompted me to come out," the 24-year-old music major said. "I'm a grad student and he offers far better possibilities for student loans."