By Rosie Bingham
It was Tuesday night after the Tennessee State Society Inauguration Ball. My husband,
John Davis, and I were shivering on a very cold below 25- degrees corner in Georgetown
in Washington, D.C. trying to hail a taxi. Suddenly a light gray mini van pulled right
in front of us. The female driver rolled down the window and said, “It’s cold out
there. Get in and if you trust me, my brother and I will take you wherever you want
go ‘cause that’s what Obama said we should do.” We hesitated for a nano-second and
hopped in. They took us right to our hotel. That’s the way it was all day and night.
That’s the kind of attitude that was apparent all over the District of Columbia on
inauguration day, Jan. 20, 2009.
Dr. Rosie Bingham
John and I had started our journey to the National Mall at 7:30 a.m. to see the first
African American sworn in as President of the United States of America. We had naively
thought that was early enough to get to the metro train so that we could be in line
by 9 a.m. when the gates would open for us to enter through the silver section where
we would stand and witness the inauguration. While we were among the people who had
tickets farthest away, we would be closer than two-thirds of the two million people
who would be on the National Mall. We had envisioned getting close enough to at least
see the Capitol steps with the tiny speck that would be all the program dignitaries,
but really close enough to see them on the jumbo viewing screens. Although we were
at the very first stop on the Orange Metro line out of Maryland, imagine our surprise
when we got to the train station and found a line that was two hours long! And the
temperature was a mere 22 degrees. But spirits in the crowd were warm and helpful.
I began to worry about getting to the ceremony in time, but we were finally packed
on a train and on our way. A black man quickly gave up his seat to a white man who
had a bad back. My spirits soared … then wavered when we got off the train only to
find another impossibly long line waiting to get through the silver gate to get on
to the Mall. The crowd was densely packed and though still helping each other, there
was anxiety in the air as it became apparent that all of us might not get in. As we
surged forward and then were stopped short of the gate, we began waving our tickets
and chanting, “Let us in! Let us in.” Then my section of the crowd surged in.
I had lost my husband, but every stranger around me became my family as we glowed
in the moment. At last this daughter of a garbage man who had marched with Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. during the Memphis sanitation strike and carried one of the “I am
a Man” signs; this woman who now improbably serves as vice president at the University
of Memphis where black students at one time were not allowed to attend; this woman
who could not cry when Barack Obama won the election, finally exhaled and at the conclusion
of the oath of office when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said, “Congratulations,
Mr. President,” I and my big family wept with joy. The dream became reality.
Dr. Rosie Bingham is a native Memphian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree
in Sociology/Education from Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., and received a Master
of Arts degree in Counseling and Guidance and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology
from The Ohio State University. She started her career in higher education in 1972
at Ohio State and moved to the University of Florida in 1978. Bingham was associate
director of the Counseling Center at the University of Florida prior to being hired
as director for the Center for Student Development at the U of M in 1985. She held
this position until 1993, when she became the assistant vice president for Student
Affairs/Student Development. After a national search, Bingham was selected as vice
president for Student Affairs in 2003.