Gala caps historic day for SC revelers

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 21, 2009 

FORT MYER, Va. - As legendary jazzman Skipp Pearson's swing band played Tuesday evening and women passed by in glittering gowns, Elijah and Robin McCants celebrated much more than the historic inauguration that had brought them to Washington from their Sumter home.

Elijah, a black professor of managerial leadership at Webster University on Shaw Air Force Base, and Robin, a white SC Education Department academic standards trainer, celebrated a new world that they are certain Barack Obama heralds as president.

"Our relationship mirrors what he is about," said Robin McCants, resplendent in a strapless champagne gown. "It really isn't about race. It's what is in people's minds and what is in their hearts that matters."

The professor, in a black tuxedo with a red velvet vest, shared the lesson of Obama's attainment of the nation's highest office.

"His election dismantles the racial and ethnic divide," Elijah McCants said. "It's done - gone!"

The couple joined 800 joyous South Carolinians and a similar number of New Hampshire revelers at the Grits and Granite Inaugural Ball in the stately Army Officer's Club at Fort Myer, Va.

They weren't the big Obama donors attending the Southern States Inaugural Ball at the District of Columbia Armory across the Potomac in Washington, but for the bargain price of $150 a ticket, the Palmetto State celebrants were having the time of their lives.

"I don't know when I'm going to come down!" said Paula Lebby, a retired nurse from Columbia in a black-and-gold brocaded blouse and gold shoes. "I'm ecstatic. I'm elated. I'm in awe."

Her friend, Josie Barton, had heeded Michelle Obama's emailed request to the female campaign volunteers across the country.

Wear pearls, Michelle had urged.

And so, Josie Barton, who owns Home Remedies Adult Care Services in Columbia and Camden, proudly wore pearl-and-diamond earrings and two strings of large silver pearls around her neck.

"I have a 17-year-old grandson, and it's just so amazing to think about the time he has been born into," Barton said. "So different from the time I was born into. I'm excited for our country. It's like a new beginning."

Down the stairs and across a corridor, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn addressed a throng of Palmetto State and Granite State folks who'd paid an extra $100 apiece to attend the VIP reception.

"I apologize for my voice this evening," a hoarse Clyburn exulted. "But as you can imagine, there's been a whole lot to yell about!"

Clyburn thanked those civil rights warriors - black and white, from the South and from the North - for their commitment to a dream that had now been redeemed.

"For those of you who, over the years, as social and political activists worked to make this democracy better and to make this country more perfect, today is V-Day - for vindication," Clyburn said.

Back in the ballroom, Vickie Vernon of Columbia was a vastly outnumbered Republican.

Retired from her family lumber business -- Cox Industries in Orangeburg - Vernon had voted for McCain in November.

Since then, Obama has won her allegiance.

"When I look at what the world thinks about Obama, I don't think we could have made a better choice for moving our country forward," Vernon said. "In hindsight, I would vote for Obama."

Mary Payne, in a red gown with a feathery white wrap, said her country has matured.

"America has come of age," she said. "We're living up to the Constitution that was written so many years ago."

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