- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Forced to sit at the back of the bus to and from elementary school in Orlando, Fla., Mamie Graye never envisioned that a black man would be elected president during her lifetime.

“I’m glad that my son will never have to go through what I did,” said Ms. Graye, 67, who drove with her two sisters from her home in Orlando for the inaugural and was attending the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Inaugural Welcome Center event in the District.

Monday’s celebration of the life and struggles of Martin Luther King took on a special meaning for many of those gathered as the country prepares for Tuesday’s swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama.

“Martin Luther King paved the way for this,” Ms. Graye said.

The welcome center at the Lansburgh Theatre on Seventh Street Northwest provided a forum for thousands of NAACP members, young and old, to reflect on Mr. Obama’s election and the long and tumultuous trek generations of black Americans have endured to get to this point.

“I am going to make sure my hand is raised as well when Obama raises his hand for the swearing-in,” said Brenda Urquhart, 61, who was volunteering at the welcome center and works for the Treasury Department in New Jersey. “It means a whole lot to me and I know he has the country at heart.”

HBO was at the center Monday to record the stories and reflections of hundreds of members for a documentary that the cable network is doing on the NAACP, which is celebrating its centennial this year.

“Our founders started the organization in an atmosphere when African-Americans were frequently victims of terrorism, and thinking about an African-American president was a pretty bold dream,” said Roger Vann, vice president of field operations and membership for the organization.

More than 75,000 members from across they country have said they would be in town for Tuesday’s swearing-in. The nonprofit group has about 2,200 branches throughout the country, most of which are run by volunteers.

Although the election of a black president is momentous, it will not cause the NAACP to relent in its work, organizers said.

“We are here to break barriers and smash glass ceilings, and we have special appreciation for the volunteers that help us get there,” Mr. Vann said. “The NAACP should not be judged by a handful of successful African-Americans ascending into power. Nationally, unemployment is around 7 percent, but for African-Americans, it is about 11 percent. Just about every measure shows African-Americans at the low end of the spectrum.”

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