Dream carries longtime UW usher George Hickman to inauguration
George Hickman nodded off moments into the historic speech. The quick snooze was probably expected. Hickman, 84, arrived in Washington...
Seattle Times staff reporter
George Hickman nodded off moments into the historic speech.
The quick snooze was probably expected. Hickman, 84, arrived in Washington, D.C., from Seattle on Monday night, then rose at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration. When Hickman, one of 188 Tuskegee Airmen to attend the ceremony, watched on TV later to see what he had missed, he noticed that Obama never mentioned one thing — that he's the first black president.
Hickman, the grandson of slaves and witness to racist brutality, said he had never allowed himself to "dream that far," to imagine that an African American could become president.
"Of all the black men that I know, they just want to be the best," Hickman said from his Montlake home Friday. "They know if they get a chance, they will be the best and better than any man that's on the job competing against them."
During World War II, Hickman voluntarily served in the segregated pilot program at an Army Air Corps airfield in Tuskegee, Ala. These days, he is an usher for Huskies sporting events, offering a warm smile and handshake to those who enter.
"He's the friendliest guy," said Sacramento Kings center Spencer Hawes, a former Husky. "If you're having a bad day, he'd put a smile on your face. It was great to see that he had an opportunity to go to the inauguration."
Co-workers at UW contributed more than $2,100 to send Hickman to D.C. He attended the inauguration with his grandson, Ryan Melonson, a 22-year-old student at Howard University.
Bundled in his navy-blue Tuskegee Airmen uniform, an overcoat, felt hat, scarf and Huskies thermal underwear, Hickman was treated to a breakfast with the other airmen at Bolling Air Force Base. The guests were then bused to the Capitol and seated in their VIP section — in 21-degree weather — hours before the general public even arrived.
"I shivered throughout the entire program," said Hickman, who said he had wanted to bring his Huskies hooded coat that extends to his ankles, but his wife advised against it.
Seated near the right wing of the podium, Hickman said the bright sun made it hard at times to see Obama when he took the oath and spoke just after noon.
"The vertical size of a postage stamp, that was the size of Obama's head from where I was seated," said Hickman, who was in a wheelchair the whole time. "I heard his introduction and I dozed off. Then my grandson said, 'Grandpa, he's about to summarize,' and I woke up. But I had to look at the newspaper to get the text of his message and watch on TV."
After the ceremony, Hickman described the exit of nearly 2 million people as "each man for himself." Don King was nearby with a megaphone belting, "Nowhere else but in America," and sounding "drunk," according to Hickman as King expressed his love for former President George Bush.
Denzel Washington was just a few feet in front of Hickman.
"I bent forward, but the only thing I could touch was his rump," Hickman said. "He turned around and frowned and I said 'Tuskegee Airmen!' He started smiling and took a picture with us."
In attending one historic moment, Hickman missed another.
Former Washington guard Brandon Roy had his No. 3 jersey retired Thursday night, the day Hickman returned. In the corridors of Edmundson Pavilion, Roy spoke about Obama.
"He is motivation for so many people, and hopefully I can continue to be motivation for people," Roy said.
Hickman, who has worked at the university since 1968, viewed both events in the same momentous light — a feeling of a new day in America.
"It's the freedom of opportunity," he said. "Obama has made the highest thing that you can get in the United States. I know there's prejudice and segregation and white people can't change overnight, but I feel that now I have the freedom."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies