Edgerton, Butler, Blunt, Foster, Yanker, Tarver and Parent Interview Transcript

MATT JACOBSON: OK, we are on Amtrak. It is Monday, January 19. We are on the 11:05 out of Penn Station, on our way to Washington, D.C. And I am speaking with-- ROSILYN EDGERTON: Rosilyn Edgerton. LEONETTE BUTLER: Leonette Butler of Newark. ANISE BLUNT: Anise Blunt from Pennsylvania. The Poconos. DEMETRIUS FOSTER: Demetrius Foster. MJ: Would you care to join us? ANDREW YANKER: Sure. Andrew Yanker. MJ: Ok. This is... Oh, I'm sorry. MARY TARVER: Mary Tarver from Plainfield, New Jersey. MJ: Great. This is.... Would you like to join us as well? CLAUDINE PARENT: Sure. MJ: And your name? CLAUDINE: Claudine Parent. MJ: OK. This is a train that I am guessing is filled almost entirely with people making a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. Although, I don't know that to be true. I am seeing a couple of resplendent, purple Obama hats in front of me. So that kind of marked this group a little bit. Let me just start with you. Could you just say a little bit about your decision to make this trek? To come down to D.C. at this particular moment? ROSILYN: OK. Well, I have to go back 45 years, because I did the March on Washington. [Pause. Becomes tearful.] Anyway. I knew Obama was going to win. So I made the reservations for this train on November 3. And I knew I wasn't going to miss it. Because it's time. It's just an awesome thing for me to be able to do something twice. Because 45 years ago, I never thought about it being history the way it has become. And for it to be Martin Luther King's celebration today and Obama being sworn in tomorrow, for me, that is divine intervention. So I'm just glad I'm able to walk and be able to get there. MJ: What, in your view, you know, suddenly the intervening years between 1963 and now look a little bit different. Suddenly, with the ascension of Obama to power, the long civil rights struggle doesn't seem maybe as bleak as it did 20 years ago or 30 years ago. What's your sense of what this means for the nation, or how it changes your own understanding of what this nation is or can be? ROSILYN: Well, it proves that the nation can come together. And for me, 45 years ago, I was in my twenties. So the excitement that I had with the change for people-- not just people of color, but for people-- I have that same feeling today. And watching HBO last night with the special that was on there, it was beautiful. It was beautiful. So I just feel that way, that it's going to escalate again and it's going to be gorgeous. MJ: Now, you two are dressed like perhaps you're traveling together. Are you in fact traveling together? LEONETTE: The four of us are. MJ: OK, and can you tell me about your decision to make this trek? LEONETTE: Well, my girlfriend Rosilyn called and she said, do you want to go? And I said, you know, I hadn't even thought about it. And I said, sure, go ahead and make the reservation. I thought you made them in October, though. ROSILYN: No, November 3. LEONETTE: It was November 3. OK. Because I didn't come for the March on Washington in 1963, and always kind of regretted that I didn't take advantage of that historic moment. So when the opportunity to be involved with another historic moment, especially one where I never really thought in my lifetime that I would actually see it-- I always felt like the money would be the thing that would keep somebody just like an everyday Joe that came from a regular family-- a single household with just the mom and grandparents taking care-- never thought that person would have the financial wherewithal to run for president, because we've seen how expensive that can become. MJ: Unbelievable, right? LEONETTE: Yes, right. And so that he was able to not only create history just by winning, but create history in so many other ways in how he raised the money. Because one of the doctors that I see-- Dr. Sampson-- she sent a check from her corporate account, and they sent it back, because they were taking no corporate contributions. So she had to then rewrite the check from her personal account. And so it was a grassroots effort. It was just the everyday, working people who supported him. It's like, how do you eat an elephant? You have to eat it one bite at a time. You can't just gobble it down. And that's how we did it. That's how it was done. MJ: Do you want to add to that part of the story? ANISE: Right. I, too, was inspired by my girlfriend Rosilyn. She called to say she was going, and I said, count me in. And she made her reservations just before the election. And I did mine a couple of days later. And never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would live to see this day. But it is such a testimony for my grands and great-grands. MJ: Rosilyn said she knew Obama was going to win. Did you know Obama was going to win? ANISE: I knew he was going to win. MJ: At what point? I didn't believe it until I saw the concession speech. [Laughter.] ANISE: I knew we needed a change, and I just knew he had it. And everything he said was just so positive. And everything that I wanted to see happen, he has a plan for it. And I just believe that he's going to do the best he can. MJ: Were you on the Mall in 1963 as well? ANISE: No, I wasn't able to go at that time and missed it. MJ: And how long have you four known each other? ANISE: She's my sister. She was here when I got here. [Laughter.] LEONETTE: Rosilyn and I have been friends for over-- ROSILYN: Over 50 years. We went to school together. MARY: And her and I have been friends for the last 18 years. MJ: Did you share your sister's optimism about the Obama campaign before the election? ANISE: Absolutely. Plus, I figured if Obama didn't win, I was grooming my grandson for presidency. And he's been told that so many years. That he has to study hard. He has to do right. Because, he has to be a president of the United States. So now, he won't be the first one, but he's going to be one. And he really understands what's going on. I mean, he's reading Obama's book and he sees similarities in his lifestyle as well. So it's an empowering thing for him as well. He's 13. MJ: And does the Obama victory change your view of what this country is? Or even what is has been over the last 20 years? It's suddenly, the past rewrites itself at certain moments. ANISE: I think so. I think it's empowering to see Obama doing what he's doing. And I think it's going to help a lot of brothers who have had excuses about not doing their best-- whatever their best happened to be-- to reach higher, and recognize that if he can do it, they can't play the game that I can't do whatever it is I want to do anymore. They've got to really stretch themselves. So it's empowering everybody, hopefully. Yeah. MJ: And now you are traveling separately? ANDREW: Yeah. MJ: And what is your story? ANDREW: I actually go to college at American University in Washington D.C. And it was where Ted Kennedy had given his endorsement of Obama during the primaries in a very tumultuous time, when it was pretty astounding because Hillary Clinton was seen so much as the front-runner in the beginning. But his speech really changed a lot of things in my own mind. My father had been a Republican. And I wasn't sure which way I was going to go in a lot of respects. And he really is a game changer for me, in a sense. I mean he really is different, he just doesn't follow the same polarizations that followed a lot of presidential campaigns before in my own mind. MJ: The indelicate question has to be asked. Is he a game changer for your parents? ANDREW: Well, my parents didn't vote in this last election. Well, actually, it's a long story. But my father passed away at the beginning of this summer-- MJ: Oh, I'm sorry. ANDREW: -- and my mother passed away when I was nine, so I'm kind of alone now. MJ: Oh, I'm very sorry. My mom passed away in May, and one of the things that I really regret is that she didn't get to see this moment, because through the spring she was so emotionally involved in the campaign. ANDREW: It was funny, because my dad was a Republican. But a lot of times I think that he just liked to start arguments with people a lot of times. And that's why he chose to be, because he lived in New York City. He had mostly Democratic friends. And he really liked to start things. MJ: That's one way to do it. ANDREW: So I guess I got a little bit of that really wanting to question things. And I think Obama has satisfied a lot of doubts that I had at least initially with the fact of these promises for change and all these types of things. And I definitely think just in his cabinet picking, and just the fact that he really has come into his own and really gained more and more momentum and more and more popularity with the election. I really think that he really can do a lot. He really can change things. He really can put our country on a good start. MJ: And you are in college right now? ANDREW: I am a sophomore. MJ: You're 20 years old? 19? ANDREW: 19. MJ: Obviously, there's a generational difference in what this moment means to people. Did you feel like you grew up with the idea that this is something that could happen in this country? ANDREW: It's really funny. I don't know what I grew up with. I think that a lot of people around me were very apathetic towards politics, a lot of youth. I think George Bush just changed a lot of things in the minds of people. He made some people more apathetic, but at the same time he really made the presidential office a little more publicized, even if it was in a bad way. He made it more publicized. And I think a lot of my friends had very strong emotions about his presidency, whether good or bad. MJ: So ironically, he kind of helped make this happen. ANDREW: Right. Yeah, I really think he did. In the minds of a lot of people, I think he, well he made it that the kind of a person who would do cocaine and things like that and be caught with it would be elected president, and stuff like that just changed the idea that you had to work for it, and it was an issue of being this and that. And it was more so that you needed to get the best person no matter what race, no matter what gender, but you needed that best person for the job, and you couldn't settle for someone who was good at shaking hands. You just couldn't settle for that anymore. And so I guess that was a big issue in the end. MJ: And sir, where are you from? DEMETRIUS: I'm from Boston. Dorchester. MJ: And you're working today? DEMETRIUS: Well, no. I'm off today. I took a few days off. MJ: OK, and so you're going to be at the inauguration as well? DEMETRIUS: Yes, I'm going to be there. MJ: And when and how did you make that decision? DEMETRIUS: From the very first day that he won the election I knew I was going to go down. I've got family out in D.C., so-- MJ: So you have a place to stay. DEMETRIUS: Yeah, right. Right. MJ: Does this change your idea of America as a nation? Is it that profound? Is it a moment of promise or is it already a moment of achievement as far as you're concerned? DEMETRIUS: Well, it's definitely an achievement. And it's a change. It's what we've been waiting for. We're at the moment, so I can't miss it. I have to be a part of it, a part of history. MJ: Well, thank you all so much. I really appreciate your time. And it's great to meet you all.

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