In Harrisburg, a break to watch history

Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis reports:

In between back-to-back meetings earlier today, state Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman stole a few minutes to go into her Harrisburg office, switch on her television, and witness what for her was a “momentous moment in history.”

Richman, 65, who is black, grew up in the South when segregation was a part of everyday life. “While my parents and grandparents were professionals, it was clear we were second-class citizens,” said Richman, who also served as Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner when Gov. Rendell was mayor. “We went to the balcony for theater, and restaurants were segregated. That was the only world I knew.”

So when she saw President Obama place his hand on the Bible yesterday to take the oath of office , “it was like living to a point in history that you never thought would come. I am one of those people who could never imagine this could happen in a lifetime. But it makes you realize, it’s amazing what can happen in a lifetime.”

She said she remembers her grandmother, who lived to be 109, having the same reaction while witnessing Clarence Thomas being sworn in as Supreme Court Justice. “Her perspective was, `how could this be happening?’”

Richman, whose staff used the lunch break to watch the inaugural events, said she was moved by Obama’s inauguration not just because an African-American was being sworn into the nation’s highest office - but because by voting him into office “America showed it wants change.”

And she, like many others, was afraid he wouldn’t get the chance to take that oath.

“I was moved that it actually happened,” she said. “I had this great fear that something would happen tot him and that he would never get to take the oath of office. Now, no one can take that away.”

Click here for's politics page.