In last fall's election, they couldn't wait to vote for Barack Obama. Tuesday in Washington, they couldn't wait to witness Obama making history.
Three Obama supporters from Uniondale's Grace Cathedral church boarded a bus in Roosevelt at 3 a.m., rode through the night and hiked Washington's jammed streets to soak up the inauguration of Obama, the nation's first African-American president.
"This was an awesome moment," said Nettie Burgess, who traveled with her husband, Michael, aboard a bus sponsored by the Roosevelt/Freeport National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Just to feel the energy coming from the people."
Walking from the Mall following Obama's inaugural address, Burgess said when Obama paid tribute to African-Americans whose sacrifices made his achievement possible, "tears came to my eyes," she said.
The Burgesses were among 50 Long Islanders who traveled overnight to see Obama, but not without considerable effort.
Bus tickets cost $65. The pickup time was 2:30 a.m. They boarded the bus in a snow-covered parking lot in Roosevelt Tuesday morning when the thermometer read 22 degrees. None had tickets to inaugural events, which meant there were no guarantees that anyone would get anywhere near the Mall, much less Obama.
But being anywhere else seemed like blasphemy, they said.
"I can't put into words how it feels," said Georgette Grier-Key. "I have to be a part of it."
Claudia Swansey, 60, of Freeport, is vice president of the Roosevelt/Freeport NAACP and said she would have walked to Washington if she had to.
"It's so exciting, this enormous anticipation," Swansey said before the sun rose Tuesday. "This is for my ancestors. It's like a resurrection."
The act of getting on a bus and traveling to Washington has special meaning for groups such as the NAACP, whose work helped make the Rev. Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington a success. And Rosa Parks' catalytic act of defiance in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 was on a bus. The symbolism wasn't lost on the Roosevelt/Freeport NAACP yesterday.
While the bus was still in Nassau County early Tuesday, Roosevelt/Freeport NAACP president Doug Mayers grabbed the bus microphone.
"I don't think too many of us thought this day would ever come," Mayers said. "It really is something monumental. From here on, I hope that our children can be taught in our schools how they can be proud of being African-American."
When the bus pulled into the parking lot of Washington's RFK Stadium about 7:30 a.m., the riders had a half-hour wait in the cold followed by an hourlong shuttle bus ride to a stop more than 10 blocks from the Mall.
"I could go to heaven now," said Robert McDaniel, 58, a member of Grace Cathedral Church, as he watched the crowd meander toward the Mall before noontime. "They didn't give us 40 acres and a mule, but we got 50 states and the White House."
When U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was introduced - a sure sign that Obama was about to put his hand on the Bible and take the oath of office - Michael Burgess, 57, and McDaniel turned to each other and shared a high five.