‘A blessing for all mankind’
With Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama, many in Orange’s black community hope the rejoicing is tempered with a “get down to business” attitude.
“Regardless of who is in the White House, they can’t do anything with out us,” said NAACP member Raymond Young, pastor of Greater St. Paul Christian Fellowship Church in Orange. “As we celebrate, let us also keep in mind that we play a role in this process.”
Area businessman and NAACP second vice president Jackie Mayfield, agreed.
“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “I’m happy [Obama] was elected and will be the first Afro-American president, and that he will serve the American people regardless of ethnicity. But we should be careful not to idolize or worship people.”
“Barack Obama was not elected by Afro-American people,” said West Orange-Stark High School Coach Dan Hooks, speaking at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. tribute. “He was elected by the American people.”
Most visible through his absence at the King ceremony was Orange NAACP president and founder James Zay Roberts, who remains hospitalized after a recent stroke.
“He walked a mighty road,” said Carolyn McCall. “None of us would be here if not for him.”
Mayfield first met Roberts not in Orange, but at a civil rights march in Bogalusa, La., he said. The march’s organizer had his life threatened, and he was taken out of town lying in a coffin in the back of a hearse. Roberts and Mayfield helped load the hearse.
Former Orange Mayor Essie Bellfield said she had been to Roberts’ room in the Orange hospital.
“He was still comatose,” she said. Bellfield and Roberts, who both marched with King at various times, attended three inaugurations with the late Orange educator Velma Jeter: Bill Clinton in 1993 and ‘97, and George H.W. Bush in 1989.
“Today I was just glad to see a prophesied occasion come to reality,” Bellfield said about the new president. “Martin Luther King prophesied this day. He told us that he may not get there with us, but that we would get there.” It was her feeling, she said, that more people were involved with the voting process in 2008, particularly young persons.
“It does make me a little angry when I hear the media call [Obama] an African-American,” she said. “He is an American. No one refers to Irish-Americans or Mexican-Americans like that.”
Eulonda Adams of Orange, Raymond Young’s secretary, said of the inauguration, “I’m proud of it. Thank God for a change.”
McCall said she viewed the event with a “ … thankfulness and a gratefulness for all people.
“It is a day of celebration, and I think the Earth will stand still. I believe God will transform the nation in the twinkling of an eye.” McCall is pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Orange.
“Speaking for myself and my family, I think this is very astonishing,” said Van Stratton of Orange. “Many times we’ve hoped that something like this would come about. Considering where we’ve come from as a people and as a whole, it’s gratifying that how some of us were treated in past times was not in vain.”
Norman Warnell, active in area church and youth groups, said it will be a blessing to have a black president.
He added, “I think it’s a blessing for all mankind.”
Franklin Gans Sr., a teacher at West Orange-Stark High School, saw the inauguration as “ … King’s dream manifesting itself.”
Although he’s helped register voters and worked for several political campaigns, Gans considers his role in civil rights a “quiet one.”
“My dad taught us early that things would change, and that we needed to do our part.
“America has always been a great melting pot. There were always certain people who did not recognize it. They did not want to give credit where credit was due; but [a melting pot] is what America has always been.”