Some Blacks Choose Inauguration Over Work

AP, January 14, 2009

Asante Bradford gave his bosses nearly three months notice that he would not be at his desk on Jan. 20.

A day after Barack Obama’s historic presidential win, Bradford knew he wanted to be able to whoop it up when Obama was sworn in as the nation’s first black chief executive–and that he couldn’t do that at work.

“I decided if I couldn’t be (in Washington D.C.), I’m just going to take the day off, just so I can scream and holler,” said Bradford, 40, who works for the state of Georgia as a liaison to the entertainment industry. He plans to watch the festivities at home with friends.

People across the country may notice the absence of their black colleagues and classmates on Inauguration Day, as many who won’t be traveling to Washington gather at homes, restaurants and churches, huddle around TVs and watch the historic swearing in from afar. And while the ceremony itself will only last a few hours, the entire day offers a chance to reflect and rejoice in the moment.

‘Being at work is not an option’

“Being at work is not an option,” said Brenda Wilson, a 51-year-old manager at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta who abandoned her dreams of heading to Washington but will not be in the office. “I wouldn’t be able to get any work done, wondering what was going on.”

Coming a day after the federal observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday–many black Americans deem the day as something of a holiday requiring cultural solidarity, much like the Million Man March or the first King holiday in 1986. Then as now, many black people felt compelled to miss work, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University.

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Some businesses, particularly those with a large number of black employees, will accommodate workers, realizing the significance of the day.

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Volunteering that day with students

Many from there will spend at least part of their day at a boys’ charter school in Atlanta, watching the ceremony with about 175 sixth- and seventh-graders, including quite a few who will interrupt their workdays to volunteer.

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Organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, headquartered in Baltimore will stay open, though employees will likely pause to watch the events.

Morehouse College, the renowned historically black institution in Atlanta, has not canceled classes but will offer a campus viewing for students and faculty.

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History unfolding live on TV

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“This is history unfolding live, said Williams [Bari A. Williams, a corporate attorney], 28. “It’s one of those ‘Where were you?’ moments that you’ll discuss all of your life. This is the real New Year’s Eve to me and all of my friends.”

While thousands of blacks are expected to make the pilgrimage to the capital for the long inauguration weekend, others were convinced by the cold temperatures, high price tag and big crowds to stay put.

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More introspective than jubilant

Instead, Gary is watching at home–alone. She said she doesn’t want to repeat her Election Night mistake of watching with friends.

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“You can understand why people actually want to pay attention to Obama taking the oath, to want to hear Aretha Franklin sing. That makes it very different than Election Night,” Neal said. “It’s a much more reflective moment.”

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