Because Obama lacked the element of surprise this year, his reelection was more historic than the original, Geddie said. And because Obama and King "share certain basic values, such as nonviolence and bipartisanship," it almost seemed as though the dual event "was supposed to happen."

Indeed, many seem to believe the overlap between the president's day and King's is too providential not to have meaning.

"It's symbolic," said Lawson, a scientific researcher who plans to be there Monday. "These two African-American men believed and believe in bringing all people together under the ideas of the Constitution. And like in a wedding, you're getting something old and something new, a taste of the past and the present. How is that not beautiful for every American?"

Taylor Barfield, now a Bowie State University junior, agrees. Obama has helped make people of all kinds feel more invested in public life, she says.

"Look at the Senate; it has more women, African-Americans and young people than ever," says Barfield, adding that King would "enjoy President Obama's presence" if he were alive today.

Not everyone buys the King-Obama link. The president's critics point out that black unemployment was at 14 percent in December, more than twice that of whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But true believers have few doubts.

"This is all happening on the right day to the right president," says Barfield, who plans to attend with her mother again Monday. "It's so powerful I have a hard time describing it,"

There would have been no overlap were it not for several oddities of the calendar. The nation held its inaugurations on March 4 between 1793 and 1933, when a constitutional amendment changed the date. King's holiday was held on his birthday, Jan. 15, until it was moved to the third Monday in January in 1986. This year's inauguration fell on a Sunday for only the seventh time.

But to some, including Cummings, history is more than a web of coincidences. It's a narrative that one comes to grasp over time.

"When I think about the fact that my own father was a sharecropper on land that was once owned by slaveowners, and my mother was, too, slavery isn't that far away," Cummings said. "I tell my children that it's hard to appreciate history while you're experiencing it. I believe this day will be appreciated even more 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 100 years from now."

Or maybe it won't take that long. Dylan Goldberg of Columbia says politics has always obsessed him, but that as a kid growing up in a middle class family that lacked connections, he never imagined he'd have a chance to be involved until he came across Obama in 2007.

"To see a guy with that last name get elected President changed everything for me," said Goldberg, 22, who went on to canvass for a county councilman and later got a job in state government.

The University of Maryland-College Park senior, who scored inauguration tickets weeks ago, has spent the last few days marveling at his luck, trying on the tux he'll wear at two balls this weekend, and looking forward to the 57th inauguration in U.S. history.

Goldberg has political aspirations of his own, and doesn't seem to blame Obama for narrowing his prospects a little.

"As a white male, at any other time I'd have been able to think, 'My dream will come true,'" he says. "In the future, there will be more kinds of people at the table than ever. But that's the greatest thing about this presidency. Everybody has a chance."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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