He has argued civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court five times. He spent years in Mississippi during the turbulent 1960s registering black people to vote. He was shot at. He was jailed.

On Tuesday, Armand Derfner threw a big party at his Charleston home. About 50 friends joined Derfner and his wife Mary Giles to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

After Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. and Obama tripped their way through the oath of office, some of Derfner's guests applauded. Others cried.

Retired school teacher Cindy McCottry-Smith, 86, said the country had "turned around."

"It's wonderful, just wonderful. I just can't believe it," she said.

Artist Peggy Howe, 63, rejoiced at the day's sense of shared purpose. "This is what we had in the 60s, this camaraderie," she said. "It's back."

Phil Noble, a political consultant and long-time Democrat, said Obama's ascension to the White House represented a "quantum leap" of possibility.

"I don't expect life to be this great again," he said.