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Ella Mae Johnson, 106, dies; attended Obama inauguration

CLEVELAND - A woman who attended Barack Obama's inauguration in her wheelchair shortly after her 105th birthday has died.

Former social worker Ella Mae Johnson made the journey to Washington with her nurse in January 2009 and watched as the nation's first black president was sworn into office.

She died Monday at age 106. Her death was confirmed Wednesday by the retirement and assisted care facility Judson at University Circle in Cleveland, where she had lived since 1975.

Obama's was the only inauguration attended by Johnson, who received a seat for the event from Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat.

Johnson had said: "I want my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to say, 'She was there.' " Johnson, who was born in Dallas, was orphaned as a child and was taken in and raised by a neighborhood couple.

She graduated in 1925 from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. She earned a master's degree in social sciences in 1928 from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, now Case Western Reserve University.

Johnson, a black, experienced and overcame racial prejudice in America throughout the last century.

She said she saw Obama as sending a message that goes deeper than just setting an example of what blacks can accomplish.

She said she was impressed by Obama's young family, his willingness to show affection to his wife and two daughters and his roots to Kenya.

"This affects young people in a way that's different," Johnson said before the inauguration. "I think it's good for us all. He's leading the country in the direction of taking care of each other."

During a 1973 tour of Kenya, Johnson talked with people struggling in the years after the country won its independence from the British in 1963.

For her 100th birthday, she raised about $3,000 in donations for aid organizations in Kenya.

Johnson had said she would like to see everyone benefit from Obama's rise to power.

- AP

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