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What Alabama school kids take home from the inaugural

They revel in the magnitude and minutiae of a historic moment – clasped hands and fluttering flags, soaring rhetoric and rainbow-hued crowds.

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Cold rendezvous with history: Students from Knox Elementary School in Selma, Ala. line up to head for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to view the inauguration.

Carmen K. Sisson

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Brenton Sanders will always remember the import of the moment – both the poignancy and enormity of the first African-American taking the oath of office. But he will be carrying home something else as well: the civility and kindness of the throng of nearly 2 million people braving brisk temperatures to witness a piece of history.

The 16-year-old African-American from Selma, Ala., didn’t expect to see crowds of whites and blacks standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling, happy. He didn’t expect them to even look him in the eyes, let alone say, “Excuse me.” To him, the chemistry of the crowd may have been as much of an affirmation of the spirit of the moment as what was being expressed on the bunting-bedecked terrace a long – very long – distance in front of him.

“I think things are going to get a lot better,” he says with a blend of conviction and hope.
Brenton’s memories of the historic time on the National Mall are echoed by many of the adults and students from Selma who journeyed to the nation’s capital to see the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th president.

Every generation has its defining moments, ones that elicit the refrain, “Where were you when...,” whether it was Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Washington, or the first moon walk, or 9/11. For the students of Knox Elementary, this will be one of theirs, even though many of them aren’t yet fully aware of it.

Yet as they head home, they are reveling in the minutiae of the event even while working through its magnitude – a time of benumbed fingers and soaring rhetoric, of long bus rides and mass brotherhood.

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