Four years ago, Oxnard Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez stood among the crowd near the U.S. Capitol as Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation's 44th president. A tree blocked her view but it hardly dimmed her excitement.
"What I could see were millions of people in front of me and behind me and around me," Ramirez said. "We looked down from the Capitol toward the mall ... you could literally see steam rising from all the humanity that was there. It was really exciting."
Four years later, she returned to Washington, D.C., for Obama's second inauguration. "I wanted to be here and participate in this historic event," Ramirez said after arriving late last week.
For his oath of office Monday, Obama used a Bible that belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a move that marks what some say is an inextricable tie between the nation's first black president and the slain civil rights leader.
"Had there not been a Martin Luther King Jr., there could not have been a President Obama," said Bishop Broderick Huggins of St. Paul Baptist Church in Oxnard, Ventura County's oldest black church.
Saying he doesn't believe in accidents, Huggins called it divine providence that the inauguration fell on Martin Luther King Day.
But four years after Obama took office, Ventura County leaders and others have mixed opinions on whether people's views on race have changed.
"It was and continues to be a very historic moment," Ramirez said of Obama's elections. "I'm hoping we put some of our sad history behind us. I know we haven't totally and we have a long way to go.
"This kind of situation our country and the world has been through, of racial discrimination and prejudice, just doesn't go away overnight," said Ramirez, who spent years as a public-interest lawyer representing low-income and Spanish-speaking clients. "It doesn't go away with one event like an election or a Brown vs. Board of Education case or anything like that. It takes a while for the poison to get out of our system."
LaRita Montgomery, chairwoman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Ventura County, had tears in her eyes and a feeling of excitement and hope that the world had changed as she watched Obama's 2009 inauguration.
She wanted to see more change happen in the years since — "more togetherness," she said.
She still hopes that will happen. "We're still getting there," Montgomery said. "We are overcoming. We haven't overcome, but we are overcoming."
Symbolically, Obama's presidency has been good for minorities in this country, said Gregory Freeland, a political science professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
"It's good for us to see a person of color in a leadership position," said Freeland, who grew up in North Carolina and got involved in civil rights marches and protests as a high school student. "I think it gives us a little bit more confidence in ourselves and a little bit more confidence in what we accomplish as minorities in this country."
But some Americans seem to have ratcheted up their dislike of minorities, fighting Obama at every turn, Freeland said. It has the appearance of more than just a difference in political positions, he said.
With Obama's re-election, he thinks that could change. "I think there might be a little bit more dialogue between opposing forces," said Freeland, a keynote speaker at a Martin Luther King Jr. event Monday in Oxnard.
"I think he is more empowered. And I think his opponents feel that whatever they were trying to do to prevent him from being re-elected hasn't worked, so they might sit down at the table."
Herb Gooch, another CLU political science professor, said he thinks Obama's re-election "shows and confirms that the country is much more ready for and accepting of a black individual" as president.
Race relations, however, still have a long way to go, Huggins said. "I've seen a sharp decline on one end and a wonderful incline on the other end," he said of the past four years.
While he thinks some people are more racist, others have found the nation's first black president as affirming, and still others have changed their views on race.
"President Obama's election has been healthy for this country and will continue to be," Huggins said. "Those who may have racist tendencies have learned ... that some of their worst fears never became reality."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.