Few protesters, state Capitol peaceful as locals watch handover on TV

Before Wednesday, Coretta Alexander and Denice McMillian had never met.

But there they were, sharing a table at Manuel’s Tavern.

Laughing like old friends and witnessing the historic, albeit rocky, transition of power as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as the country’s next president and vice president.

“I am very proud of the fact that we now have a president that reflects our democracy and respects all people who live within that democracy,” Alexander said. “We are a nation of diversity.”

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Not for the first time in its 64-year history, Manuel’s Tavern was the center of Atlanta’s political universe Wednesday, hosting a viewing party for the inauguration.

Largely, because of the pandemic, celebrations throughout the city were muted as many people choose to watch from home. Early on, several waitresses commented there were more journalists in Manuel’s than actual customers.

“Usually, we would be way busier,” said Megan Maloof, the granddaughter of the tavern’s legendary founder. “It is still going to be special.”

Kelsey Nix watches the inauguration of Joe Biden at an inauguration watch party at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta on Wednesday. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Kelsey Nix watches the inauguration of Joe Biden at an inauguration watch party at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta on Wednesday. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

A few miles away, the Georgia State Capitol was blocked off by dump trucks and armored Humvees as National Guard members and state troopers stood outside, bracing for potential conflicts in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But beyond the steel barricades, there were few protesters — just four in the minutes before the start of the inauguration.

Among them was Rhonda Beach, a retired detention officer from Monticello. She stood with two others at Liberty Plaza holding signs that read, “I love my country” and “I hate my government.”

Beach said she believes the presidential election was stolen and remained hopeful Donald Trump would stay in office. But after livestreaming the inauguration, she accepted there is a new president. ”I don’t have a choice.”

Most metro area residents, for or against Biden, preferred to mark the inauguration at home.

Over a spread of red, white and blue-themed foods ― apple pie with ice cream, chicken salad, and fruit and veggie platters ― Amy Bryant of Cumming gathered with members of the COVID-19 circle she formed in April, including five friends she has known more than 15 years.

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The women wore inauguration t-shirts, pearls and Chuck Taylor Converse shoes as they raised Bahama Mamas and beer in a toast to Harris, the first woman vice president.

“We had hoped four years ago to do this celebration and we did not get to, so this has been four years in the making. We are beyond excited to have a woman as our vice president,” Bryant said.

In Fayetteville, Chandra Childs and her family gathered with food and games for a “gala” in their fanciest clothes to watch the evening’s festivities.

To keep everyone energized, Childs cut up the different words that make up the oath of office and scattered them. When found, teams put the words together in the proper order to see who knew the solemn promise to the country best.

”This is a big deal and we want everyone to know this is a big deal,” said Childs, the mother of two. ”I loved Biden’s speech. I loved Kamala’s speech. It was a good tone. It was more full of hope than hate.”

Jena P. Jones, a manager of reprographic services for the Atlanta History Center, could barely sleep the night before the inauguration. Finally, a little after 5 a.m., she “gave up the ghost and just got up.”

”I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl,” she said. “It’s a historic day. We have our first female vice president and, then, for her to be a woman of color and a ‘soror.’ I’m over the moon about that, too.”

Jones was referring to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, of which she and Vice President Harris are members. Throughout the country, women in the sorority, as well as members of the three other national Black sororities, which helped mobilize the Biden-Harris campaign, watched the inauguration in pearls and Converse sneakers.

A graduate of Howard University, Harris is also the first Black and Asian American elected vice president. “As a South Asian woman, just hearing her name, ‘Kamala Devi Harris’ kind of made me tear up,” said Feroza Syed, a realtor and activist. “It took time to process that we broke this glass ceiling.”

When Jeff Stanley and his family moved from Marietta to Acworth in 2018, he noticed the flag post outside of their home, but inauguration day marked the first time he decided to fly the American flag that he says represents freedom and liberty for people of all backgrounds.

”I have just felt like over the last four years that the administration that has been in the White House has not represented me and my values,” said Stanley. “Biden is the real deal and he is going to be a president for all Americans.”

People watch the inauguration of Joe Biden at an Inauguration watch party in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Manuel’s Tavern held an Inauguration watch party on Wednesday to celebrate the election of President Joe Biden. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
People watch the inauguration of Joe Biden at an Inauguration watch party in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Manuel’s Tavern held an Inauguration watch party on Wednesday to celebrate the election of President Joe Biden. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Minutes before the start of the inauguration, waiters at Manuel’s created a column in the parking lot with police tape. A big-screen television set played the inauguration as people sat in lawn chairs or at big tables and watched. Cheers sprung up sporadically. When Michelle Obama appeared. After Lady Gaga sang.

A Black man stood and tears rolled down his face when Harris took the oath of office. Everybody cheered after Biden’s speech.

Back inside, McMillian took out her phone and took a picture of the television screen.

“I just wish we could have celebrated better,” she said. “Maybe, when the pandemic ends, we will all be able to gather and celebrate the new president and vice president the way they deserve to be celebrated.”

- Shaddi Abusaid and Leon Stafford contributed to this report.

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