Kansas residents watch Obama take oath
By JOHN MILBURN
TOPEKA -- Visitors filed through the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka as the nation marked the start of President Barack Obama's second term and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday
Many visitors said they believe the Democratic president can be successful if he remembers his faith and stands up to Republicans in Congress during the upcoming sessions.
Dominique Crain-Wilson brought a group of high school students from the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club to perform at the historic site and learn about civil rights.
Crain-Wilson is 26 and voted for Obama in both his presidential elections.
"I trust his judgment and he will take ownership of any task he gets our country involved in," Crain-Wilson said. "It's a pretty great day."
The historic site is housed in the old Monroe Elementary School, which at one time educated only black children. Monroe was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional.
In 2009, several hundred people gathered at the site to watch a live broadcast of Obama's first inauguration. This year's crowds were smaller, but steady.
"The stars lined up," said Dave Schafer, director of interpretation and education at the historic site. "As students of American history, we love to talk about turning points."
Monday was such a turning point for Obama, the start of his final four years in office facing an economy that's slow to rebound, a war still churning and fights looming with Congress about the federal deficit.
"Second terms are really tough. There are some big challenges, especially since we are such a polarized country right now," Schafer said.
Gary Webber and his wife, Phyllis Farrar of Lawrence, were looking at quilts in the former school. They were taking in museums in Topeka they hadn't visited before.
The couple, both Democrats, said Obama had a lot of work to do during the next four years, but the people play a role in that. They said they believe they need to be more engaged in the process, including reaching out to Kansas' GOP-dominated congressional delegation.
"I think he's going to work harder to stand up to the GOP and the House of Representatives," Webber said. "I think he's going to try to be harder and not compromise as he did in the first term."
Added Farrar," The opportunity is there. He'll be fine. It's not an easy thing."
Kiesha Jackson, 17, said it was significant Obama was starting his second term on a day when the nation honored "a significant black activist."
"I feel he's going to push for more equality of Americans. When it comes to politics, I don't know," Jackson said.
Christopher Cushinberry said most people don't look at the situation that the president inherited in 2009 and how far he has brought the country.
The 21-year-old University of Kansas student said he's confident Obama will work to improve the economy, especially with Cushinberry having just a couple of semesters to go before finishing a degree in communications.
"He's had to come in and clean up some of the things of the past," Cushinberry said. "He brought the troops home from Iraq, dealt with terrorists. It's taken time."
Gwen Chandler brought her two nieces and a nephew to the historic site. The children were out of school, and she thought a little history would be a good outing on a cold day in Topeka.
Chandler didn't watch the Obama take his oath Monday, but had advice for him.
"It's not going to be tough for him if he keeps God first for him in his life," Chandler said.