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Obama in the White House: Elation, hope and disbelief

Jesse Washington and Erin McClam
Obama in the White House: Elation, hope and disbelief
President-elect Obama is pictured on his plane flying from Chicago to Washington on Monday, where he later met with President Bush. (Photo: AP /Charles Dharapak)

Author: AP /Gerald HerbertPresident-elect Obama is pictured on his plane flying from Chicago to Washington on Monday, where he later met with President Bush.

President George W. Bush (right) and President-elect Barack Obama walk together prior to their meeting at the White House in Washington on Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. For many voters across the United States, Obama’s victory in last Tuesday’s election sparked feelings of joy, hope and even utter disbelief. (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON — Anthony Shuford used to ride the No. 32 bus past the White House and wonder if the president had any idea what his life was like. He voted for Barack Obama last Tuesday and said he would never feel the same about that house, or his country.

In the cities that have written the long, complicated history of race in America — places where slaves were bought and sold, where a Declaration of Independence prematurely called “all men” equal, where black students faced segregationist mobs — voters black and white spoke of joy, hope and utter disbelief.

In the often forgotten neighborhood of Anacostia, people spoke of history — slavery and separate water fountains. They reached in vain for adjectives that were big enough — excited, ecstatic, astonishing. Some just leaned out of car windows and shouted: “Obamaaaaaa!”

It’s not far from the White House, a muddy river serving as the boundary between living and just surviving. Shuford remembered going home from work and thinking, “I’m coming across the bridge to a poverty-stricken neighborhood, to abandoned buildings, knowing right across the bridge is Capitol Hill.”

Now he feels like heading back across that bridge to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, “just to support and rejoice.”

Others spoke of popping champagne, of winning the lottery. They remembered those who died before witnessing this day, and they stored away “I Voted” stickers as if they were precious heirlooms.

“What did Martin Luther King say? We’re going to the mountaintop? That’s how I feel,” said Delores Oliver, standing in the parking lot of the hilltop Washington View Apartments, with the famous part of Washington spread out in the distance below.

Millions of voters who swamped churches, schools and community centers last Tuesday paused to celebrate what generations before had been brutalized for, died for and only dreamed of — voting a black man into the White House.

“Look where black people came from,” said Dasmin Hollaway, a black college student, not far from where nine students faced down angry crowds and the governor of Arkansas in 1957 to integrate Central High School in Little Rock.

George Palmer, a 41-year-old computer analyst, considered the weight of it as he waited with his wife, Joetta, and their 5-year-old twins, Justin and Jasmine, to vote for Obama.

They were in line at Burke High School in Charleston, S.C., next to the Citadel military academy, whose cadets fired on a Union steamer en route to Fort Sumter on Jan. 9, 1861. They were not far from where hundreds of thousands of slaves had been traded.