The 57th presidential inauguration may be an inside-the-beltway affair, but Georgia residents are crashing the party next week to put their Peach State stamp on festivities marking the final four years of the Barack Obama presidency.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans will pack the National Mall to watch the president take the ceremonial oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Monday, Jan. 21, which is also the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
But the Georgia party begins Sunday, January 20 when more than 1,000 people will attend the Georgia Inaugural Gala at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in downtown Washington. The black tie event, hosted by the Georgia State Society of Washington D.C., will feature a variety of Georgia-inspired southern food and drinks.
Expect an abundance of peach cobbler, pecan pie, apple crisps and red velvet cake.
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Members of Georgia’s congressional delegation will also attend, including the honorary society chairman, Rep. David Scott, D-Smyrna, who said he was excited about the pre-party enthusiasm.
“We expect a sold-out diverse and bipartisan crowd to celebrate the best of Georgia,” Scott said.
Atlanta Braves baseball legend Hank Aaron will make a special appearance and legendary singer Gladys Knight, a native of Oglethorpe, Ga., will be on hand to sing as well.
“I know that hearing “Georgia on My Mind” from Georgia native Gladys Knight will be one the highlights of the evening,” Scott said.
Knight will face some competition from 18 members of the Georgia State University Marching Band, who’ll also play “Georgia on My Mind” and “Living in America,” a song made famous by longtime Georgia resident, the late James Brown, the legendary Godfather of Soul.
“They had reached out to us and we said we thought that would be a great idea to have a small representative contingent from the band come to the gala,” said society board member and historian, Randy Nuckolls, a native of Dalton, Ga., and a partner at the Washington office of the Atlanta law firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge.
The following day on Jan. 21, the full 180-member Georgia State marching band and color guard will be the state’s sole representative in the Inaugural Parade through downtown. It’s an honor considering the band first began performing less than three years ago.
To keep expectations down, marching band director Chester Phillips didn’t even tell the members that they were among some 2,800 bands across the country vying for one of the coveted spots in the parade.
“This was something we kept internal,” he said. “We felt like we had a good story and obviously a good product, so we hoped we would get selected. And we thought it would be more exciting to reveal to students if they didn’t know about the application.”
The band was selected after providing video footage and audio recordings of their performances. The Georgia congressional delegation provided letters of support, as did Gov. Nathan Deal and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, who the Georgia State School of Policy Studies is named after.
Phillips said the band’s initial shock upon learning that they would participate in the parade quickly gave way to cheers.
“They certainly got excited about it,” he said, “but at first they were like ‘what?’ They had to ask me to repeat it, like ‘What did you say?’”
In Columbus, Ga., business partners Travis Chambers and Karl Douglass, who run a real estate sales and management company, will be making the trip with their wives. Business engagements didn’t allow Chambers to attend Obama’s 2009 inauguration and he still regrets it.
“The first African American president? I really wanted to be there for that,” said Chambers, who is black. “I was able to watch it on television, but I heard you really had to be there to witness and appreciate the moment.”
While his three sons, ages 10 to 20, won’ be making the trip, Chambers, 41, said they realize the historical significance of the event and the role model Obama is for black youth.
“This is a good example that you can be anything you want to be if you just put your mind to it,” Chambers said. “Don’t ever say what you can’t be. A lot of African Americans have made great accomplishments throughout our history and this is just one big one that we can all celebrate.”
Douglass, who was the Obama campaign’s regional political director in 2008, is making his second inaugural trip.
“It was history to elect the first African American president,” he said. “I think it’s equally important to say ‘We did it on purpose.’ To have him re-elected confirms that people we’re comfortable with the decision they made the first time.”
Douglass, 44, and Chambers will both attend the Georgia gala and the inauguration parade and ceremony. Douglass, who is also black, said he’ll also visit the National Archives Building to see the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago.