Peter Yarrow: I Was Shut Out of Obama Inauguration (but Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Story updated Sept. 17, 2009 to reflect yesterday’s passing of Mary Travers at age 72 , after a long battle with leukemia.

He came, he sang, but in the end, he couldn’t conquer the crowd.

That’s the tale of woe Peter Yarrow tells host Andrea Garrison on this week’s edition of Online with Andrea.

“They called it the ‘Purple Tunnel of Doom,’” Peter tells us of the jam-packed entrance to his one-time stage.

“They called it the Purple Tunnel of Doom," Peter tells us of the jam-packed entrance to his one-time stage.

On January 17, the legend- ary folk singer—who in 1963, with Peter, Paul & Mary mates Paul Stookey and the late Mary Travers, perform- ed on the National Mall after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech—serenaded more than 1,000 youngsters at the Children’s Inaugural Ball at the National Historical Society in Washington, D.C.

Three days later, however, at around 7:00 a.m., Peter once again made his way to the Mall.

He’d planned to watch his- tory in the making when Barack Obama was sworn in five hours later as America’s 44th president.

But like more than 1,000 other people who had tickets in the purple or silver sections of the Mall, he wasn’t able to make it through the Third Street Tunnel.

“I was in that infamous purple group that never got in,” Peter tells Andrea. “But I stood there from 7:30 until right before noon. And next to me was a young woman who was maybe 20 years old. She was African-American. . . And she had given everything she had in her life. She scrimped and saved and raised money and borrowed money so she could be there to see the inauguration.

With Paul (left) and Mary at the 1963 March on Washington.

With fellow reformers Paul (left) and Mary at the 1963 March on Washington.

“She was crying and her mascara was running down her cheeks. . . and I put my arms around her and I started singing, ‘How many roads must a man walk down, before they can call him a man. How many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand. . .’

“And I rocked her back and forth and slowly she began to stop crying. And she told me how dear and important this was to her and she was devastated. And I said, ‘Well, I think we’ll get in.’

“But at that point it was clear we weren’t going to get in. And she collapsed. . . So I lifted her up and I started walking with her so we could see the speech on television. It gave me the opportunity to tell her why it was important for her to be there, but not as important for her to see his taking the oath of office.

“And I did so by saying, ‘What you did here was the essential act. You came here. . . And doing this will give the kind of energy and impetus to President Obama he needs to carry forward his perspective.”

To here Peter’s full interview, click here.

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