Witnesses to history

Published 11:59 pm Monday, January 19, 2009

Michele Robertson grew up hearing the stories from her parents about history in the making and the civil rights movement. When Barack Obama was elected president, she knew — some how, some way — that she and her mother, Ethel Robertson of Andalusia, were going to be there to watch the first African-American sworn in as president.

They made it — after 14 hours and some 900 miles armed with thermal underwear, “hot hands” and something called a “walking stick chair,” the two arrived Saturday to watch history in the making.

“Both of my parents had experienced the civil rights movement,” said Michele, who works in Montgomery as an administrative programs specialist with the U.S. Forestry Service. “My sister and I grew up hearing them telling us about it. I knew it would be a very historical moment to be (at Obama’s inauguration) and see what they participated with Martin Luther King Jr. wanting everyone to be equal.

“To know that all of his hard work and the people that came behind him — his dream came to fruition” she said. “Obama is the first African-American president. He represents all people — black parents, white parents, he can relate to everyone.

“And we — my mother and I — are going to witness and be a part of it, even if we’re not in the front of the crowd,” she said. “We will be there and we will see it.”

It was a plan that was first hatched as soon as the election totals were announced.

Ethel Robertson, wife of Andalusia High School coach Richard Robertson, said she was surprised at Michele’s decision to go and both excited and apprehensive about the trip and about Obama becoming president.

“It is history in the making,” she said. “I believe he will do a good job. He’s a smart man, and he is married to a smart lady. And he has surrounded himself with smart intelligent people. When it was first announced, Michele said we were going to be there when they swore him in. I didn’t think anything else about it until two weeks ago when she called and asked if I was ready to go.

“All in all, I have mixed emotions,” she said. “I’m excited, a little leery … I’m glad I will get an opportunity to see it happen. I wish every child could see history making, but it’s going to be cold out there and before it’s all over, I’ll probably rather be in front of the TV.”

Ethel said Michele has prepared for the harsh weather they will see during their trip.

“Oh, we’re going to be bundled up,” she said. “Michele has procured all the necessary things. Hand warmers, even warmers for our shoes, polythermal stuff. Some of the things that go over your face, so we’re pretty well taken care of as far as the weather is concerned.”

The two, who drove from Andalusia to Montgomery and then to Washington, are staying with family while there.

“The good thing about it is that I have a nephew that lives in Maryland, so we’re staying with him and taking his girls with us,” Ethel said. “I have a niece and nephew in Connecticut and they’re coming down. For us, it’s a family affair and that makes it even better.”

And while they may not have seated tickets for the inauguration, the two plan to make the most of the event from the mall area.

“Michele is so thoughtful; she knew I couldn’t stand that long, so she bought a walking stick chair — it’s a three legged thing, looks like an umbrella,” Ethel said. “You can use it as a walking stick and when you get tired of walking let it out to a seat.

“Talk about how things change.”