Originally Published: January 20, 2009 10:06 p.m.
Back when Gwen Calhoun joined fellow black college students at a sit-down in the mid-1950s, it never occurred to her that she would live to see an African-American become president.
On Tuesday during President Barack Obama's inauguration and related festivities, she couldn't tear herself away from the TV in her Prescott Valley home.
"It's very exciting. It's historical," Calhoun said. "I'm just crying and laughing. I've never felt this way before."
Calhoun is a county delegate-at-large for the Arizona Democratic Party. She received the county party's Hope-Independence Award in 2006 for volunteering thousands of hours. A retired Yavapai College art teacher, she also volunteers for several other local organizations.
Throughout her years, Calhoun can recall only one personal incident of discrimination.
When she heard that a Durham, N.C., drugstore soda fountain had refused to serve some of her fellow black students at North Carolina (Central) College, she and others joined in daily sit-ins until the store owners changed their minds after several days and served them.
Although she helped create change, back then she never thought the country would change to the point of electing an African-American president.
"It was the furthest thing from our minds," Calhoun said. "About five years ago, I kind of got the feeling that maybe one day - but not in my lifetime."
At least two Prescott-area residents were lucky enough to get tickets to Obama's inauguration Tuesday.
"At age 77, I figured it would be my last chance to be involved in such an important part of history," Yavapai County Democratic Party Chair Ben Furlong of Prescott said about why he made the long trip and the long walk along the Capitol Mall Tuesday.
Furlong threw his support behind Obama back in February 2008.
"Among the Democrats, I felt he was most likely to unite people," Furlong explained.
Unfortunately, Furlong ended up getting turned back from one gate at the mall Tuesday with several hundred others, apparently because of a metal detector malfunction. He couldn't hear most of Obama's speech and couldn't see around a row of trees.
But he still felt the positive power of the million people on the mall.
"I've never been in a crowd like that," he said. "It was a good feeling."
Chino Valley Del Rio Elementary School teacher Patti Allen-LaFleur went to the inauguration, too.
Teachers, administrators and students at the school expect to hear about Allen-LaFleur's adventure today when she is scheduled to speak on the school's radio network that she helps students operate, related principal Susan Clark.
Allen-LaFleur was traveling back to Chino Valley Tuesday so The Daily Courier couldn't reach her by press time.
Coincidentally, Clark's brother Bill Straub was in D.C. Friday for a civil engineering meeting and took a stroll on the mall.
He got a laugh out of the rows and rows of thousands of portable potties and shot several photographs of them.
But on the more serious side, Straub already could feel something special in the air.
"He said the whole city was just electric," Clark related.
Like Furlong, Calhoun believes that electricity comes from Obama's ability to help unify a divided country.
"But as he said, he can't do it by himself," Calhoun added. "Everybody has to do their part.
"We've come a ways, but we still have a ways to go."