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Published: Wednesday, 1/21/2009

Pride, not glamour, pulled Toledoans to D.C.

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mike 'Huggy Bear' Huggins shows his support for President Obama on the National Mall. Mike 'Huggy Bear' Huggins shows his support for President Obama on the National Mall.
DAVE YONKE PHOTO Enlarge

WASHINGTON - They didn't come to town with VIP passes in their pockets. They had no invitations to the galas. They didn't stay in luxury suites. In fact, they didn't even have hotel rooms.

They were just single mothers and laid-off factory workers, roofers and retirees from Toledo - just regular folks - who didn't want to miss a special moment in history.

Their trip was more grueling than glamorous, taking a chartered bus from Toledo on Monday night, arriving at the National Mall at dawn yesterday, and heading back to Toledo a few hours after Barack Obama was sworn in as President.

Fifty-four people squeezed into the bus for the turnaround trip organized by Mike "Huggy Bear" Huggins, a 43-year-old laid-off factory worker from Toledo who is not one to sit still. He said he had the time and the energy - and a deep admiration for President Obama - to get the bus trip rolling.

"We're all family here," he said. "Once we get on the road, we'll all be able to say we watched history together."

Although three local television stations filmed their departure and a Blade reporter joined them for the trip, this group of travelers - most of them African-Americans - didn't need the media to remind them of the significance of what they were going to witness.

"A man who is African-American will bring this country together," said Preston Stallings, 63, of Toledo. "It shows this country's ability to change."

The racial element of the Inaugural had a personal meaning to Mr. Stallings, who recalled a trip Rome, Ga., when he was 16 and seeing two separate water fountains, one marked for whites and one for "colored." He had never seen blatant segregation in Toledo and when he started to take a sip from the white fountain, was berated by his grandmother.

"She was very stern in her facial expression. I was shocked," Mr. Stallings said. "My cousin said I could have caused 'serious trouble.' "

Ron King, 49, of Toledo, was born in Meridian, Miss., and said he witnessed racial discrimination firsthand in his youth. He sees the election of President Obama as a major step toward breaking down racial barriers in the United States, he said.

"To see a change like this is amazing. People are coming together. This is what Martin Luther King dreamed of, to see people as Americans, not as people of color," he said.

Rose Cheney, 63, of Toledo, was asked if she was excited to be present at President Obama's swearing-in ceremony.

"Is the Pope Catholic?" she said with a laugh. "I'm loving it, I'm loving it. I'm excited to see change. No matter who we are or where we're from, we can all go forward."

The bus rolled into Washington just as the first orange rays of sunlight lit the eastern horizon. Most of the highways were closed to automobiles, and scores of police cars lined the roadways as legions of buses headed into the city.

Robbie Tucker, 59, of Toledo, was one of the few on the bus with a pass to stand in a reserved area on the National Mall, receiving a pair of tickets in a random drawing by the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

"It's history. It's history," Ms. Tucker said, adding that she has always regretted missing King's famous speech in Washington because her mother said she was too young, and there was no way she was going to miss President Obama's inauguration.

Glenda Brown, 48, of Toledo, had been excited over the White House race and the Obama candidacy since early in the campaign.

"I work at Women Blessing Women and we empower women; we help them get registered to vote. I was excited when Obama was nominated and even more excited when he was elected," she said.

Despite rumors the capital would be in a "lockdown" state, there were no security checks for pedestrians entering the Mall. Pre-Inaugural announcements said backpacks, chairs, thermoses, and many other items were banned, but the rules were not enforced.

The biggest hassles were the long waits in sub-freezing temperatures and having to maneuver through human traffic jams at every vendors booth and all entrance and exit points.

The Toledo contingent split up soon after entering the Mall, scattering into small groups and watching the activities on massive screens lining the grounds.

Mr. Huggins stood proudly in the crowd, waving a pair of American flags and frequently shouting Obama slogans. When President Obama took the oath of office, tears rolled down Mr. Huggins' cheeks.

"This is what happens when you feel good inside," he said.

Contact David Yonke at

dyonke@theblade.com or

419-724-6154.



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