ST. PETERSBURG — Inside a barbershop on a street honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a middle-aged man spoke to a younger one about the momentousness of the day. In the background, the television offered a preamble to the main event.
"Today is a special day,'' said Jimmie Jackson, 66, a barber and Pentecostal minister.
"Him and I were talking about the changes, Martin Luther King's march on Washington and how far the black race has come."
His clippers moving expertly over 24-year-old Herman Dandridge's head, Jackson said he had skipped his regular Christian program that morning in favor of the lead-up to Barack Obama's inauguration.
"I never thought that in a million years we would have a black president,'' said Dandridge, who plans to study business at St. Petersburg College. "I am still amazed.''
The feeling of incredulity was echoed repeatedly in the Neighborhood Barbershop at 6045 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, where a campaign poster showing Obama in a barber chair was displayed on a wall and an old Obama-Biden campaign sign still stood on the floor.
"It's a day of rejoicing that has finally come. America can truly say we changed. Race relations have changed a lot,'' said owner Deborah Evans, 58, who added that she hadn't been able to stop weeping with joy.
"I just wish my parents were alive to see it. I knew it would happen, but I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime,'' said Johnny Roberts, 43, a father of four.
"My wife didn't go to work today. She stayed home to watch the inauguration'' and was astounded that he would abandon the TV spectacle to go out for a haircut.
Evans, Jackson and their customers did more than passively watch history unfolding Tuesday. They carried on a running commentary that might have rivaled that of the television reporters.
"There go Carter and his wife,'' Jackson exclaimed.
"Wow, you know she colors her hair,'' said Evans, eliciting laughter.
Michelle Obama's gold coat dress won undisputed approval.
"Oh, that's beautiful,'' Evans said.
"Step out and go. Praise the Lord. I'm wondering if she's not cold.''
And in a visit that seemed auspiciously timed, Deveny Alexander, 37, walked into the barbershop dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume promoting a tax preparation business.
"I brought you some candy as you watch the inauguration,'' she said.
Spotting Jimmy Carter on the television screen, she said, "He was my favorite. I liked him.''
But relative silence descended as the historic inauguration approached. Evans grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. Roberts rushed home for the big moment as Rick Warren began his prayer, which was endorsed with a loud amen from Evans.
Julian Josiah, an immigrant from St. Croix, sat in her barber chair.
"To me, this is just a stepping stone for all cultures, that anything is possible and that the American dream is possible for all,'' he said of Obama's presidency.
A cook at the Hilton in St. Petersburg, Josiah is mourning his grandmother, but still was able to smile as Obama took the oath to become the nation's 44th president.
"Praise the Lord,'' Evans said, clapping.
"It finally happened. God is good.''
Josiah praised the new president's speech.
"I think it was wonderful,'' he said.
"He didn't leave any issue unspoken. I feel overwhelmed.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.