WASHINGTON — Long a shield and sword for African-American progress, black churches around the nation celebrated with praise, songs and jubilation Tuesday as Barack Obama was inaugurated the nation's first black president.
"We live in a time where God has moved history," said Rev. J. Michael Little, who opened the doors of the historic Friendship Baptist Church near the U.S. Capitol so people could watch Obama take his oath of office on a large-screen television.
The African-American church has been an anchor in black Americans' lives in the United States since the late 1700s, a place weary slaves would go for comfort and fiery abolitionists and civil rights activists would call for change.
Across the country, black churches opened their doors for early morning praise and fellowship in celebration of Obama's victory and then turned on televisions to watch him take the oath of office.
In Lithonia, Ga., hundreds of people — from white-haired elders who grew up with Jim Crow laws to children wearing T-shirts with Obama's image — gathered at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to watch the inauguration on one of six big screens.
At Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, founded in 1797 on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans, Obama's inauguration was being shown live in the building's lecture hall for anyone who wanted to come by and watch.
"It is a memorable occasion," said Dolores Lyons, the church's facilities manager. "There are those of us who never expected to see this day in our lifetimes.
"Here at the founding place of the African Methodist Episcopal church, in a church founded by a former slave, it is consistent with our mission to make this inauguration available for anyone who wants to see it."
Obama has praised the historically African-American church several times.
'Audacity of Hope'
In his 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope," he wrote that "the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world. ... You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it."
At Friendship Baptist Church, one of the oldest African-American churches in Washington, a choir sang praises, and Little led the hundreds in the sanctuary in prayer before turning on a large projection screen for the teeming multiracial crowd that filled the church pews.
The Friendship crowd cheered, chanted "Obama" and stood on their feet waving American flags when Obama took the stand to take the oath of office. An usher walked around with a box of tissues to help stem the flow of tears from onlookers.
"The African-American church historically has played an important role in civil rights and the progress of the African-American race," said Little, the church's senior pastor, as he ushered people into his sanctuary.
"Everything that is going on in the African-American community is proposed, or composed or debated inside the church. How fitting it is to fellowship together and watch this historic moment together inside the anchor of the African-American community."
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