Palmer’s thoughts were on more recent memories.
“When I was a kid and my mom told me I could be president, I didn’t believe it,” said Palmer, who is black. “But if he wins today, when I tell my son, ‘Hey, you could be president one day,’ he will believe it.”
At another voting precinct in Charleston, the white longtime mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., was waiting in line. He called the election “just a wonderful remembrance of what America is — that people freely have the capacity to progress.”
Riley cited the landmark 1954 desegregation ruling from the Supreme Court, Brown vs. Board of Education. To be here 54 years later, he said, was “just a wonderful fact about America.”
The Brown decision took its name from Oliver Brown, whose daughter had to take a bus to segregated Monroe Elementary School and was kept out of a white school much closer to their home. The building, in Topeka, Kan., is now a national historic site.
At a nearby polling place, Ralph Hoover, a white, 68-year-old retired probation officer, called Obama’s candidacy “cleansing” for the United States.
“People will grow to trust him — if they don’t already,” he said after voting for Obama. “I think it’s genetic in us, to worry about superficial things.”
America is now celebrating what began in Topeka. But race in America is also about scars, deep and persistent.
There is New Orleans, also an old slave-trade city. There, only three years ago, a natural disaster forced Americans to confront images of impoverished black neighborhoods under water, desperate black families begging from rooftops for help that was too slow to arrive.
In the Lower 9th Ward, at Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School, the voter lines were short last Tuesday — not because of a lack of interest, but because the neighborhood is still a sparse landscape more than three years after Hurricane Katrina.
Josetta White, 39, and her daughter Clare, 12, showed up with two goals. First, the mother would vote for the man she believed gave New Orleans its best shot at revival. Then they would walk down eight deserted blocks to check on their old house.
“It can’t get any worse,” the older White said. “I voted for [Obama] not because I think he can change everything, but because I think he’ll try … Either way it ends, this is history today.”
Decades apart, two other scars marked Los Angeles: The Watts race riots, which raged for six days in 1965, and the deadlier 1992 riots that exploded after four white police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
In the Crenshaw district, half a block from Martin Luther King Boulevard and down the block from a lifelike mural of Obama spray-painted on the side of a building, Charles Kinsey, a black, 48-year-old mechanic, waited half an hour to vote last Tuesday. He said he would have waited a lot longer.
“It’s an emotional day, no doubt,” Kinsey said. “When Obama started running, I thought it was great. But I thought, you know, Hillary or whoever would beat him. But here we are! Lord, I just voted for a black man for president. How about that?”
And so, 232 years after the Declaration of Independence had promised that “all men are created equal,” and pledged liberty to men who owned other men, the course of human events had arrived here: Tens of millions of Americans voting for an African American man for president.
In Philadelphia, where the declaration was signed, Dolores Whitaker said her city’s historic roots had meant little to her. She is 72, and when she moved to Philadelphia more than half a century ago, she said employers had taken one look at her skin and turned her down for jobs.
Maybe one day the phrase “all men are created equal” will be realized, she said. Not overnight. But she said Obama is proof to the next generation of black children that anything is possible.
“They can look now and say, ‘Yes, I can,’” Whitaker said. “I truly believe that.”
At the Washington View apartments, Delores Oliver, 68, said that she only drinks on New Year’s Eve — but she bought a small bottle of champagne last Tuesday. Cradled in her palm was the small “I Voted” sticker she had received hours before.
Her friend Verdell Winder has affixed his sticker to the back of his driver’s license.
“It feels like I’m still in a daze, in amazement,” said Winder, 41. “It’s like hitting the lottery. I see the numbers, I’m dazed with it, totally ecstatic, but until I get the money in my hand and cash that ticket, I don’t want to [get] totally excited.”
Standing next to Winder and Oliver, Eugene Queen, 74, remembered being forced to drink from segregated water fountains in his nation’s capitol. “I ain’t gonna never forget that,” he said.
But, Queen said, voting for Obama “just makes me feel wonderful. Just the idea that he made it.”
AP National Writer Jesse Washington reported from Washington, and Erin McClam from New York. Associated Press Writers Gillian Gaynair, John Moreno Gonzales, John Hanna, Kathy Matheson, Bruce Smith, Noah Trister and Christopher Weber contributed to this report.
The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas,
the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his historic triumph by
defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in a string of wins in
hard-fought battleground states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa. A huge crowd in Grant Park in Obama’s home town of Chicago erupted in jubilation at the news of his victory. Some wept. More »
The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his historic triumph by defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in a string of wins in hard-fought battleground states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa. A huge crowd in Grant Park in Obama’s home town of Chicago erupted in jubilation at the news of his victory. Some wept. More »
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