BOSTON — A huge crowd, estimated at up to 20,000 people, witnessed the Jan. 4 inauguration of Deval Patrick, only the second African American elected governor of a U.S. state. The election of Patrick, a Democrat, ended 16 years of Republican governors in Massachusetts.

The first elected African American governor, Douglas Wilder of Virginia, was a guest of honor at the event.

The inauguration ceremony was also historic, being the first ever held outdoors — on the steps of the Statehouse — instead of inside the chambers of the General Court. Some legislators had protested holding the event outside, as they did not want to spend a couple of hours in the harsh New England winter temperatures, usually below the freezing point. But the weather turned out to be reminiscent of an early spring day.

The outdoor ceremony was symbolic of Patrick’s pledge that he was running so that the people of Massachusetts could “take back their government.”

For over two years before the elections Patrick met with progressive, grassroots Democrats, trying to win their support for his gubernatorial run. As one television reporter noted, many of the 20,000 who came to the inauguration were “Deval Patrick volunteers, most of whom have only come to the Statehouse to protest.”

Patrick has urged these volunteers to “stay engaged.” Political observers suggest that this network will work to put pressure on legislators to promote progressive legislation. Patrick himself has felt the pressure from these activists and changed his position on a number of issues in a more progressive direction.

Patrick has begun fulfilling his campaign promises by rescinding almost $400 million in cuts in state services ordered by outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney. He also overturned Romney’s order requiring state police to enforce immigration laws.

The tone of the inauguration ceremony was set with the invocation by Rabbi Jonah Pesner. Pesner, a social justice activist, in his prayer called for making Massachusetts “a Commonwealth which acts as a commonwealth,” and spoke of the need to resolve “the secret suffering of immigrants, who come to this place like we did, seeking a better life, and they suffer under hidden and low-paid jobs upon which we depend,” and to attend to “the rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” as well as “those who sleep in the streets, [and] those who are overworked and underpaid,” among others.

The issue of immigrant rights and their importance to the state and the country was also stressed in the addresses of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray as well as Gov. Patrick.

The new governor emphasized that while the founders of what was to become Massachusetts came over on the Mayflower and the Arbella, “there were other boats, too.”

“There was the Amistad and her cargo of kidnapped Africans,” he said, referring to Africans from Mendi in Sierra Leone taken to Cuba to be sold into slavery. These slaves rebelled and took over the Spanish schooner La Amistad and tried to force the crew to take them back home, but were taken to the U.S. where they were captured and taken to New Haven, Conn., to be sold as slaves.

Patrick noted his inauguration was the 165th anniversary of the day when an Amistad slave wrote a letter to John Quincy Adams, the former president, who defended them before the U.S. Supreme Court and won their freedom. As a gesture of their gratitude, they sent Adams a bible, now known as the Mendi Bible. Patrick took his oath of office with his hand on the Mendi Bible.

To showcase the new administration’s reliance on the people, instead of one huge gala inauguration ball, where the only ones invited and able to afford it would be the well-heeled, there were five inauguration receptions over the same number of days with the participation of about 15,000 people. A few thousand tickets were handed out to those who could not afford the cost.

Another part of the inauguration events that was different from prior ones was that the outgoing governor, Romney, took the traditional “lone walk” the day before instead of immediately before the new governor took the oath of office. If he had followed tradition, he would have had to walk through thousands of Patrick supporters.

Romney, who is running for president and has been under intense criticism for spending more days outside the state than in Massachusetts during the last year, did not attend the inauguration. Former Republican governors William Weld, Jane Swift and Paul Cellucci and former Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis attended the ceremony.

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