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Cynthia Washington wishes her grandmother had lived to see it: The first African American sworn in as president of the United States.

During a speech at Monday’s diversity fair in honor of Martin Luther King Day, the granddaughter of the late Longview civil rights leader Victoria Freeman, called Monday’s holiday and Tuesday’s inauguration of president-elect Barack Obama “a wow factor.”

“Look at our great nation,” she said. “Freedom. Democracy. You can get an education like anybody else and go far.”

Washington, 63, of Longview, reflected on how far the city has come since her childhood.

“Forty years ago, we all wouldn’t be sitting together,” she said. “Forty years ago I would be walking through the back door of a restaurant, not the front door.”

Many minorities, Washington added, wouldn’t even own businesses.

“Look at us now. Isn’t that awesome? Look at us now!” she said. “We are now in Dr. King’s vision. We are now in Obama’s upcoming everything.”

Speaking at the McClelland Arts Center bordering the Longview park established by and named for her grandmother, Washington told her audience: “I want you to remember one thing: We’re free … We’re growing, people. We’re growing.”

So, a celebration? You betcha this is a celebration. “That’s how come I have the wow feeling. Wow, we have come a long way, baby.”

Tuesday’s diversity fair was organized by Cowlitz Americorps Network and Longview Recreation. The event included demonstrations by Mexican and Polish dancers as well as presentations by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Parents’ Place, the Lower Columbia College Mulitcultural Club and the Ethnic Support Council.


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