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Beyond the Grapevine

Remembering a Presidential Inauguration -- 40 Years Later

The day dawned bright and frosty in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Jan. 20, 1977. Although the sun was shining, the temperature was in the teens and a recent snowfall had left mounds of ice and snow in yards and alongside roads.
 
As I headed to an early morning religious service at the Lincoln Memorial, a radio commercial noted a closeout sale at "Jerry's Ford," a local car dealership; on this day President Gerald Fordwould be succeeded by Jimmy Carter, the former Georgia governor who lived in Plains, just up the road from Tifton outside Americus.

I was a young journalist covering my first inaugural. At the Lincoln Memorial that morning, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., "Daddy King" of Atlanta, spoke on the steps: "I am on hallowed ground where, not quite 14 years ago, my son stoodhere and delivered his great speech, 'I have a dream....' "

The elder King said that "Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life" so that the "poor and oppressed will never be forgotten," and he implored the incoming president to remember those less fortunate.

By the time the 39th president took his oath of office at noon, th temperature had climbed to a balmy 28 degrees. From my vantage point on the Senate wing steps at the east front of the Capitol, I could see Carter and Ford at the podium, although they were quite a distance away.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, Carter became the first president to walk from the Capitol to the  in the post-ceremony parade. When the Carters stopped their limousine, got out and began walking, a roar went up from the crowd around them.

At the end of the long day, following the inaugural parade, I found a discarded Nixonmask left on the grounds of the National Mall. Watergate and Vietnam were just a few years behind us, and, as with any inaugural, there was hope for a new day ahead.

Of the many words Carter spoke that day 40 years ago, these are the ones I remember: "Let us learn together and laugh together and work together and pray together, confident that in the end we will triumph together in the right."


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