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Posted: January 15, 2009 7:14 p.m.

Locals head to Washington for inauguration

Ceremony scheduled for Tuesday morning

As the nation gears up for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, a handful of Newton County residents will be able to experience the event first hand. They are among the fortunate few to have tickets to the historic occasion of the swearing in of the country's first black president.

Newton County Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson will be attending the inauguration with his wife, Michelle, and their two teenage sons.

"Never in my lifetime did I dream that this occasion would be occurring. I certainly wanted my children to have a chance to experience it first hand," said Johnson, who will be making the 12-hour drive to Washington, D.C. with his family later this weekend.

While in the capital, the Johnsons will attend the official inauguration on Tuesday, take in an inaugural ball and visit with old college friends.

"We're looking forward to taking it all in," Johnson said. "We hope to be able to get in some things that we haven't seen."

For those watching the inauguration from home on Tuesday, festivities begin at 10 a.m. There will be a performance by Aretha Franklin and a new musical selection by composer John Williams with Itzhak Perlman on the violin and Yo-Yo Ma on the cello.

Following an invocation by the Rev. Rick Warren, Obama will be sworn in at noon as will Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Obama will then give his inaugural address. The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a black Methodist civil rights leader, will give the benediction

Newton County's own the Rev. Eric Lee of Springfield Baptist Church will be traveling to DC to take part in the inauguration festivities with his wife and three small children, ages 10, 7 and 5.

Lee said he plans to watch the 56th Inaugural Parade, which will make its way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, after the swearing-in. He also plans on attending the Southern Inaugural Ball.

As this is the family's first trip together to D.C., Lee said they will try and take in some of the historical sites of the city as well.

"We're going to try and get to the Lincoln Memorial and perhaps visit some area churches and just get out and about with the people," Lee said.

Lee said he is most looking forward to watching Obama take the Oath of Office (which he will do using Abraham Lincoln's own Bible).

"Historically speaking, African-Americans participated in the inauguration for the fist time in 1865, during Lincoln's second inauguration," Lee said. "I'll be thinking back to them and thinking back to slaves that had been recently liberated and the kind of optimism that they had just two years after slavery and I'll be thinking about just how far we've come as a country."

Eastside sophomore Chelsea Phillips probably has one of the best passes of anybody to the inauguration events. As a member of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, she will be participating in a special five-day program that will include meetings with the new president, White House officials, Congressional staff members and various political experts.

She will attend speeches given by former Sec. of State Colin Powell, former Vice President Al Gore, television journalist Lisa Ling and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Phillips will be flying to D.C. on Saturday. She will stay in Arlington, Va. and travel to D.C. for the inauguration conference events, which include a black tie Gala Inaugural Ball.

There are 10 official inaugural balls. The Obamas are expected to attend all of them.

"It's so surreal. I'm very excited. I can't wait," said Phillips, who has been involved with the National Youth Leadership Conference for several years now. "It's the first time I've been to something so historic."
Also attending the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday is longtime Newton County civil rights activist and radio show host Forrest Sawyer.

Sawyer, who will be attending the ceremony with his wife, Sharon, said he's looking forward to seeing "the wheels of government turn and the transfer of power from one man to another."

"I go for those who can't," said Sawyer, who was a student leader during Newton County's own Civil Rights demonstrations in 1970. "I go for those who were hanged in Monroe, Georgia in 1946 and shot up. I go for those who marched right here in Covington. I go for those who were beaten and killed, that it was not in vain."

In addition to visiting with friends and taking in a few exhibits at the Smithsonian Institute, Sawyer said he will likely attend the "We Are One" free concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. The concert features performances by U2, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Usher, Garth Brooks, John Mellencamp, Mary J. Blige and John Legend among others.

Said Lee, "I would hope that this inauguration, no matter what your political affiliation, I would hope that it's something that the entire country can celebrate even if just for one day."

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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