ObamastripJane simmonsJane Simmons at Pigrim Baptist Church on Tuesday.


Like many of her contemporaries, Jane Simmons remembers the indignity of segregation.

As a young woman growing up in North Carolina, "I sat in the back of the bus," Simmons
says. The law said she had to. The high school she attended was all black, also by law.

After graduating in 1961, she moved to Red Bank, where much of her family lived, "to
better myself, and get a better job."

That year, for the first time, she got on a public bus and chose her own seat.

The feeling was strange because, she says, she "didn’t know any other way" but to automatically sit in the

Over the ensuring decades, Simmons worked as a "domestic engineer," or housekeeper. She spent 10 years working in security at AT&T, and is now a certified home health aide.

Over that time, she raised five children, four of whom survive. Simmons says she's thankful that they didn't have to experience the kind of second-class citizenship that she did.

Yesterday morning, Simmons told redbankgreen, "I woke up and thought I was going to have a heart attack" when she realized what day it was: Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

By 10:30a, she was in the basement of
Red Bank's Pilgrim Baptist Church, joined by relatives spanning three
generations and about 60 other visitors to watch the inauguration of
President Barack Obama on a big-screen television.

"There’s something about the church and sharing it with people," she said of the event. "There’s a good feeling here today."

One of Simmons' four daughters was in Washington, D.C. to see the big event for herself. Mother and daughter traded text messages periodically during the swearing-in ceremony. That is, when mother wasn't standing in the blue light of a television to whoop loudly.

But there were quiet moments, too, when the memories of those North Carolina bus rides clashed with the unprecedented event playing out before her eyes.

"I never thought I’d see this day," Simmons said, clutching a box of tissues.

Email this story