WPR News
7:28 am
Tue January 20, 2009

Wyoming leaders reflect on Obama's first day

Laramie, Wyo. – A prominent voice for equality in Wyoming says history will remember President Barack Obama for unifying the country in troubled times, rather than as America's first black chief executive.

Harriett Elizabeth Byrd's 12-year career in the Wyoming Legislature began in 1980. For much of her time at the capitol, she fought for state recognition of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Byrd is 82, and worked for the Obama campaign in Wyoming. She says she has been looking forward to the inauguration since he was elected in November.

"When he became president-elect, I prayed to the Lord, 'Don't let anything happen to me between now and the time he's president.' Because I said, 'I want to be on earth to see the first black president of the United States of America.'"

Byrd says, more importantly, Obama will provide the right leadership for the country in a time of economic peril. She says his inauguration proved that he can be a unifying force.

Meanwhile, Governor Dave Freudenthal was in Washington to celebrate the new president's inaugural. He says Obama's nearly 30-minute address offered a realistic assessment of the serious challenges facing the nation.

"In contrast to the speeches that kind of went with the election or the election victory, I found this one to be very sober and not cheerleading, but very resolute about what this country can do and what it needs to do, so it was impressive," Freudenthal says.

The governor says he could see millions of onlookers from his seat at the event. He noted the immense energy of the crowd.

Wyoming's new Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis was also inspired by what she saw at Obama's inauguration. Although they're from different parties, Lummis shared some of Obama's hope. Lummis said she was struck by the part of President Obama's speech where he mentioned the history of segregation.

"One memorable line is that he is standing here when 60 years ago he may not have even been able to even walk into a restaurant in this town. And that's very telling about how far America has come."

Like Freudenthal, Lummis commented on the day's atmosphere. Members of Congress sat behind the podium and had a view of the people who crowded into the National Mall.

"It was such an inspiring sight to look back on the mall which was filled from one end to the other with Americans, from every balcony, every place that Americans could look at and listen to the new president's speech, they did," Lummis says.

The freezing temperatures didn't diminish the spirits of the big crowds. Some even took advantage of the cold, skating on the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol after he finished his speech.