One of the images Myra Jones-Taylor GRD ’09 remembers from the “electrifying” inauguration of President Barack Obama is the Barack Obama action figure.
Jones-Taylor, a graduate student in the American Studies department, and her girlfriends took over 750 images of the inauguration, but the photo of the action figure — which would be given to a friend’s nephew — ended up being showcased in Thursday’s remembrance of the historic day at the New Haven Museum and Historical Society on Whitney Avenue.
To an audience of 80 local residents and Yale students, the graduate student, famed African-American history professor David Blight and professor Elizabeth Alexander ’84, soon-to-be chair of Yale’s African-American Studies Department and Obama’s inaugural poet, shared their experiences and focused on the documentation of the event.
The four speakers — Alexander, Blight, Jones-Taylor and James Bowers, the first African-American professor at the University of South Carolina — all pointed to the inauguration as a history-maker, one that everyone present wanted to capture in photographs, blog posts and Twitters.
“It really was a day of poetry and song, and the beauty of these photographs really underscored that,” Blight said.
“Being at the inauguration,” Jones-Taylor added, “was actually better than my wedding day and the days I gave birth to my two children.”
On the walls of the museum auditorium were photographs of the experience, some showcasing individual faces, others the décor and buildings on the National Mall. One was taken by Joanna Escandon, 28, a paraprofessional working at Mary L. Tracy School, in Orange, Conn.
As she was walking to the Lincoln Memorial on Inauguration Day, Escandon, an Orange resident, took a picture of the Jumbotron monitors littering the Mall, highlighting the 86-year-old building.
“And the American flag,” interjected her mother, Jo-Anne.
“Mother, stop,” Joanna said, embarrassed. “Well, it was a great deal. … I just wanted to get it all in.”
By the end of the evening, the four presenters came to a unified conclusion: Jan. 20 was a day that will never be forgotten. But the presenters approached the historic inauguration through many fronts.
In her presentation, Alexander said she did not have any pictures of the event; as a writer, she creates pictures with her words, she explained. But she did receive photos of her face on the Jumbotron from complete strangers.
“I’m struck by how many people — strangers and friends — said, ‘This is where I was sitting. Did you see me?’ ” she said. “When my friends are saying it, they’re trying to be funny. When strangers say it, they mean it.” The audience erupted in laughter.
Bowers focused on the racial implications of the election. Bowers, who met Obama at their alma mater Harvard Law School four years ago, said the inauguration may mark a new “post-racial” era for the United States.
And Jones-Taylor mused about what the the images of the inauguration mean in four years, if Obama’s presidency is “less than what I’ve hoped for.”
“What am I to do with those things beneath my bed? How will it affect my view of the inauguration?” she asked. “Will they mean any less? Will they mean something different? Will it be a reminder of the inauguration or will it be a reminder of something that could’ve happened, but didn’t?”
Only time will tell.