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Crowds Descend on National Mall to Celebrate Inauguration

As many as 2 million people converged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Gwen Ifill reports on the record crowds and their reactions to the historic day.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Gwen Ifill was on the mall with the crowd since early this morning, and here is her report.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Eugenia Pete managed to hold it together all the way from Tulsa to Washington, right up until the moment President Obama actually took the oath of office. Traveling cross-country to see the new president she said was essential, but actually witnessing the oath turned out to be overwhelming.

    Eugenia, you look like you want to cry again.

  • EUGENIA PETE:

    It's just awesome. They're happy tears. I have been crying all day. I mean, when I first walked up here, I cried because it was cold. And then — but the ceremony — I'm happy to be here, and it was just so emotional for me.

    I have a little boy. He can — he can do what he wants to do. He don't have to be just a rap star or basketball player, you know? He can do it. The sky is truly the limit now, we've blown open that ceiling, and I am just full to overflowing. And I just thank God that I could be a part of this.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    More than a million like-minded citizens braved frigid cold and pedestrian gridlock on nearly two miles of national parkland, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, so they could say they had been part of the moment.

    One of those was Ella Mae Johnson who, at the age of 105, traveled from Cleveland to be history's witness. Although she is confined to a wheelchair, nothing she said would have stopped her.

  • ELLA MAE JOHNSON:

    Someone said she was not going to stay out in the cold. And maybe she or someone else said, "I'll see it on television."

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So why are you doing it?

  • ELLA MAE JOHNSON:

    I want to be here. I want to see the beginning of a shared responsibility by people, not just white, not black, not any one people, but together. And it seems to me, by the way that people are responding to him, that he may be successful now.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Johnson, a retired social worker who has traveled to the president's ancestral home of Kenya, knew she wanted to see the new president take office for herself.

  • ELLA MAE JOHNSON:

    I hope the time comes when we can just be who we are and not worry or believe that, if we call ourselves something else, we'll get better attention, better treatment.

    I hope that we get to the point, not because we're Christians or Jews or Muslims, but because we're human. And we want to be treated, we need to be treated, not one taking advantage, but all recognizing that there won't be peace — there may be quiet or silence — but it won't be peace.

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