W.O.T. Fleming reflects on inauguration
By Elizabeth Cook
For 89-year-old W.O.T. Fleming, longtime Salisbury educator and community activist, Barack Obama’s inauguration was like an elixir.
“I’m feeling good,” the Monroe Street resident said Tuesday afternoon after he and Jolene, his wife, watched Obama’s swearing-in on TV.
“At my number of years, having looked forward to something different, this was a real good piece of cake,” Fleming said.
“I’m glad I lived long enough to see it.”
Fleming said he found the crowd watching the inauguration in Washington nearly as remarkable as Obama.
“Just to see the mass of people, mingling ó and without difficulty …”
He thought back to days when whites and blacks did not move about together so easily.
“All along, why couldn’t it be more like this?”
Fleming’s years as a school principal date back before integration, when he served at Lincoln School and then Monroe Street School, two of the city’s schools for black children.
He recalled for a Post reporter once a conversation he had with his daughter when the YMCA opened on Fulton Street. She wanted to know why she couldn’t swim in the Y’s new pool.
“I said, ‘Well, baby, the laws are that blacks and whites shouldn’t be together in certain places,’ ” Fleming recalled to reporter Rose Post. “The Y is operated by whites. We aren’t accepted as part of that group.’ ”
By the time Fleming retired as Overton Elementary School’s principal in 1983, he’d spent 43 years as an educator and seen some racial barriers come down.
“I’ve seen the history, been a part of our history,” Fleming said Tuesday, lamenting that younger generations don’t appreciate the struggles and sacrifices previous generations made to get the nation to this point.
Fleming praised Obama’s oratory, saying he especially liked the inclusiveness.
“I didn’t hear him say ‘I’ much. It was ‘we’ and ‘you.’ ”
The nation is in a hard place, with tremendous challenges ahead, Fleming said.
“I believe we can do it.”