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Baltimore women recall segregated past, look to brighter future

Just past noon yesterday, Celestine Morgan stood in an ocean of people on the frigid National Mall and watched as Barack Obama became this country's first black president. Her mind reeled, going back to the day in August 1963 when, as a college freshman, she stood in more or less the same spot protesting segregation and racial bias.

The March on Washington inspired her to pursue equality for a living - she directs the Baltimore County Human Relations Commission - and she says Obama's inauguration has provided fresh motivation to do more.

"This was just a joyous occasion," Morgan said, still giddy hours later as the bus ride back to Baltimore got rolling. It was a celebration of what America can be about, and what America is."

Accompanying her was her 11-year-old grandson, Darrius Morgan. The sixth-grader called the experience cold but "amazing" because it showed him what is possible, regardless of skin color.

They had ridden to Washington on a two-bus caravan organized by Baltimore Women for Obama. The several dozen riders included area women who campaigned for Obama early on.

Alice Torriente, 71, owner of a travel agency, African-American Cultural Tours, co-chairs the committee. She had scored tickets that gave her special access to parts of the Mall that were off-limits to the general public.

Alas, she had to settle for watching on television at a restaurant blocks from the Capitol. Hobbled by bad knees, she asked a police officer to give her and two companions a lift, only to have his cruiser turned away by the Secret Service at several checkpoints.

Torriente, still decked out in an Obama hat, scarf and button, said afterward that she was "very, very disappointed." She had wanted to represent now-deceased family members who had played a role in the civil rights struggle, including her father, Troy Brailey, a longtime state legislator from West Baltimore and a president of the local Pullman Porters union.

"I think we are on the precipice of something really great happening in our country," Torriente said.

Stephanie Johnson had better luck. She and her 16-year-old son, Jabril Johnson, trudged to a spot near the Washington Monument.

Johnson had bought her son a ticket as a Christmas present. She wanted Jabril, a sophomore at Baltimore Freedom Academy high school, to witness the swearing-in of the first black president.

Obama's rise, he said, demonstrates that he, too, can achieve anything he wants through hard work.

"I want to be something great," Jabril said, adding that he plans to become a registered nurse like his mother and then pursue a law degree "because everybody in my family says I talk a lot."

The two buses were scheduled to leave soon after the swearing-in. But it took hours for the passengers to straggle back.

As people collapsed into their seats, there was mild grumbling about the cold and logistical confusion. But they also expressed enthusiasm about the experience.

"It was amazing in the fact that everyone felt a common bond," said Carol Murray, a family court mediator for Baltimore County.

"A oneness," agreed Celestine Morgan.

"It makes you feel like it can happen," Murray said, "that everyone can get along."

Several riders spoke of a desire to get or stay involved.

"We are going to help Barack Obama do the best job he can do," said Veris Lee, co-chair of Women for Obama.

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