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Milwaukeeans Reflect on Obama Presidency

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Barack H. Obama is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts as the 44th president of the United Statesas on the West Front of the Capitol on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC.

In 2008, he campaigned on a platform of hope and change. Now, President Obama’s historic tenure is winding down. The President will deliver his farewell address Tuesday night in Chicago.

WUWM looks back at what some Milwaukeeans were saying about the President when he was first sworn-in and what they’re saying now.

Thousands of Milwaukeeans were in a festive mood on Inauguration Day, 2009. WUWM had fanned out across town to speak with people attending celebrations. At one event, we asked folks what campaign promises they expected the new president to keep.

“So many people don’t have health care. Many have to decide whether they want to purchase medicine or food and it’s really sad. I think he has to hit the economy because until people feel comfort in their own day to day lives, I don’t think they can work toward the larger goals that he’s talking about in terms of service and world change. People have to have a sense of being grounded and safe themselves.”

Over at UW-Milwaukee, students had high hopes the new president would boost people.

“I hope this experience that we are going through now inspires a lot of young black children that we can make it and inspire them to not put a label on us anymore and to aspire to a higher position. He’s going to make a lot of changes to the world, help jobs and make the communities better. He’s going to be fixing all that hopefully and improving everything.”

Over at the African-American Women’s Center on Milwaukee’s west side, hundreds of people gathered to watch, on a big screen TV, the first black president take the oath of office. One person who was there is Ruben Hopkins.

“It was a very proud day for all of us to see the first African-American male sworn in as President of the United States,” Hopkins says.

Hopkins recalls hoping the new president would jump start the economy following the Great Recession. And Hopkins believes, for the most part, the economy has improved.

“The country is pretty stable. We’ve seen the job growth every month since he’s been in office. He got the country back on track,” Hopkins says.

Hopkins says he marvels at President Obama’s resolve and how well he has held up in the face of intense criticism. Stephaine Sow works at the women’s center and says she was at home, watching the Inauguration on TV in 2009. She says she was anticipating a slew of changes.

“I wanted him to make the jobs, the schooling the prison system and bring back things that our youth can do as far as having employment at a young age, as far as having Medicare and Medicaid and having all the things that we need as far as health care,” Sow says.

Sow considers President Obama’s major accomplishment to be the Affordable Care Act because of the millions of Americans who have used it to get health insurance. Tony Courtney, a retired social studies teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools, thinks President Obama has taught people to be more civic-minded.

“The children, it made them more cognizant of things that were going on in the world. A lot of young people didn’t pay attention to politics but now people are being educated along those lines,” Courtney says.

But Courtney says one thing that got worse under President Obama was gridlock in Washington. Ruben Hopkins cites racism.

“It’s just so heightened. We’ve always known it’s been an underlying issue in our country but it really showed its head in the way the president was treated. I remember seeing a video of him where, as the President of the United States, people wouldn’t even shake his hand.”

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.