History in the making
WINTON — Eighty-one-year-old Lula Mae Perry and her daughter, 61-year-old Marion Chamblee, spend another winter afternoon at the Winton home of their friend, 64-year-old Hilma Flood.
What made this particular afternoon different than previous visits was a discussion unlike any they’ve ever had before. The women were in the process of making final arrangements to attend the inauguration of the first African American President of the United States of America.
“I already have my suitcase packed; they don’t have to wait for me” Perry laughed. “I’m just so excited about going. It’s only a few days away. I just can’t contain myself,” bellowed Chamblee.
Perry, Chamblee and Flood are three of 36 area senior citizens leaving from Ahoskie on a bus trip to Washington D.C. to witness in person the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama. This area busload is just a diminutive portion of the predicted two million onlookers expected to attend.
“I never thought that I would be able to go to DC to see a person of color sworn in as the 44th President of the United States,” expressed Flood. “I never thought I would live to see it. I can hardly wait for the day to come,” Perry added.
Perry, who was born and raised in the Trap community in Bertie County, will be the oldest of the senior citizens riding on the charter bus to D.C. The Hertford County Office of Aging arranged the trip. The bus left from the Ahoskie Inn Motel on the morning of January 19, one day before the inauguration.
“We have been planning this trip since March of 2008. Everybody is excited,” said Daphne Lee, who coordinates trips and tours for the Hertford County Office of Aging.
Chamblee said that she is grateful that her mother will be able to witness inauguration day.
“I feel really proud that we can go together and standing up for him,” Chamblee said. “Just little old me, a person from Old Trap, North Carolina is going to be in the crowd of millions of people to see Barack Obama become President of the United States. It’s overwhelming.”
“We were down so far, we have come a long ways up to get where we are now because at one time we couldn’t even vote,” expressed Perry as tears rolled down her cheek. ”These are tears of joy, I’m so glad, I’m crying.”
The women sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating fresh pecan nuts as the sun beamed onto their faces through the window shades. They reminisced about the way Hertford and Bertie County used to be.
“When I went to vote on November 4th of last year, I had reflections,” Flood recalled. “I went back in my mind to my parents who passed away and my deceased husband James. When I went to cast my vote I was voting for them too.”
Flood, originally from Portsmouth, Virginia, followed her heart and moved to Winton nearly 30 years ago to live with her husband.
“Back in Virginia, we did the marching in the civil rights movement,” she added. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Flood and her parents participated in public sit-ins, boycotts and marches in an effort to stop the segregation laws across Virginia.
“I remember meeting Dr. Martin Luther King in Suffolk,” said Flood. “He came and showed my community how to peacefully march and protest. I was a child of the civil rights movement so it means a lot to me to see how far we’ve come and the fact that we can do anything that we want to do. The sky’s the limit.”
Perry and Chamblee said they too experienced a rude awakening about the racial tensions decades ago. Chamblee said when she was a child someone threw a burned cross in her front yard in Bertie County in the 1950s.
“We woke up that night and all of a sudden we saw this light out there and it was a cross,” said Chamblee.
Perry said the next day her house was one of many reported to the fire department with having burned crosses left in their yards.
Perry wiped away her tear and smiled. “If I could say something to Mr. Obama, I would tell him I am so proud of him that I don’t know what to do. I would hug him so hard; I’m so glad that he made it because I feel like we are on top of the mountain.”
“I’ve listened to everything he had to say and I pray each and every day for him that God continue to bless him with the wisdom and knowledge to help bring the United States back to where it needs to be,” said Chamblee.
Chamblee laughed as she thought about the night Obama won the presidential election.
“Momma said if that man becomes president, I am going to witness it and you are going too because this is history. This is not going to come around again in my lifetime and maybe not even yours,” said Chamblee. “So I said okay momma, I guess… we’re going.”
And they are indeed going…going to join others from all across this great nation to witness history in the making.