On Scene with Bill Wilson: Inaugurations

I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this article how my inaugural memories are in perfect alignment this year. It is 100th anniversary of the inaugural of the President with the same last name, the 40th anniversary of my first attendance at a Presidential Inaugural and the 20th anniversary of my participation in an Inaugural parade.  


Woodrow Wilson becomes President on March 4, 1913
Copyright Underwood & Underwood, NY


The only reason I purchased this photo is that President Woodrow Wilson and I share the same last name, but as far as I know there is no blood relation. What I find most interesting about this photo is the lack of visible women. This was the last inaugural before women got the right to vote in 1917.

President Nixon takes the oath for a second time with his family in attendance.
Copyright Bill Wilson


In April of 1972 I started a job on Capitol Hill working as a clerical assistant for a Democratic Senator. There wasn’t much demand for tickets to see the inaugural in person, but for me it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.  This inaugural was held on the east side of the Capitol, where traditionally it had been held until Ronald Reagan decided it should be held on the west side of the Capitol with its view of the National Mall.  

President and Mrs. Carter become the first and only couple to walk the entire route of the Inaugural parade in 1977.
Copyright Bill Wilson


When I saw the inaugural parade of Richard Nixon in 1973 I never guessed that one day I would be a participant in one. In 1977 I couldn’t get tickets to the swearing-in so I found a vantage point in front of the Department of Labor Building were I witnessed Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter walking down Constitution Avenue (in the blocks before it joins Pennsylvania Avenue)  and felt the electricity of the crowd as people realized they were walking.


 

The NAMES Project contingent lining up for the Inaugural parade of William Jefferson Clinton January 20, 1993. Bill Wilson (left) Elizabeth Glazer (right).  Photo from the collection of Bill Wilson

The NAMES Project contingent was one of the last contingents to march in the 1993 Inaugural parade. It made for a very long day. Among the marchers with our contingent were Elizabeth Glazer and Bob Hattoy, the two HIV positive individuals who addressed the 1993 Democratic National Convention and Mary Fisher, the HIV positive individual who had addressed the 1993 Republican National Convention. Some of us carried panels with the names of people who had died of AIDS and some people carried banners with quotes from Bill Clinton’s campaign speeches.


The President and Mrs. Clinton, The Vice President and Mrs. Gore and their friends in the Presidential reviewing stand as The NAMES Project contingent passes. Photo from the collection of Bill Wilson

The parade went off with military precision and pace. The sun was setting as we stepped off and people were leaving to get warm and ready for the night’s festivities. You could see people in the buildings as you passed and hear people as the clapped and yelled encouragement. It wasn’t long before we made the turn from 15th Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue which was lit by television lights so it was as light as day.  We were in front of the President.  I was marching on the side closest to the Reviewing stand, carrying a panel I had made for Dan Bradley who had headed the Legal Services Corp. and worked with Mrs. Clinton. I swear that as I looked up the President pointed to me and mouthed the words, “I knew him.” I nodded and responded with a thumbs up. I wasn’t sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing. So after we continued to 17th Street I said to the person on the other end of the banner, “Did the President just acknowledge us or was it my imagination?” She assured me he had pointed to us. I have to admit that I still was skeptical. I probably would have remained so except that in the article Taylor Branch wrote for “Life” magazine about the Inauguration was the following quote, “…a sudden hush announced the approach of the Aids Quilt. The Clintons and Gores looked somberly to the floor at first, uncertain how to fit mortal desperation into the festivity. But as the Aids marchers waved buoyantly, they responded with smiles and raised thumbs. Paired marchers carried banners honoring selected AIDS victims: Max Robinson, Brad Davis, Congressman Stewart McKinney, Ryan White. ‘He was head of the Legal Services Corporation’ said the President, pointing to a banner for Dan Bradley.”


President Clinton looking at NAMES Project panels on World Aids Day December 1, 1993 before a speech at Georgetown University  Copyright White House Photo


The panel I made for Dan Bradley was sewn together with other panels that were carried in the Inaugural Parade and made into several 12 x12 sections. One of those sections was displayed as President Clinton spoke at Georgetown University on World AIDS Day December 1, 1993

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