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Obama's Presidency a Living Example for African Americans

A majority of African-Americans also say that Mr. Obama's presidential win has improved race relations in America.

A new survey shows that African-Americans' assessment of progress and race relations in America has improved more dramatically than at any time in the last quarter century. And, President Barack Obama's move into the White House appears to be the spark that ignited this rise in optimism and hope.

African-American Nicole Cunningham says growing up in the southern state of Georgia was difficult.

It was a time of racial tension. The white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, often terrorized black families, sometimes beating and murdering them. But, Nicole says seeing the inauguration of the first black president has shown her that times have changed.

"When I was in the fifth grade having the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] march on my school, and wanting to have all the black kids brought outside, I was thinking about all of that when I was looking up there. So we have definitely come a long way," she said.

Nicole and her husband, Vurtis, took their two young children to the inauguration to witness the historic event. Their son Tarik says he is proud of Mr. Obama's victory.

"And I know some people they didn't like the idea of having an African-American president and he persevered through all that," he said.

"It was a very emotional day," said Nicole. "You know, I can look up there and see someone who looks like me."

A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly twice as many African-Americans now than in 2007 say the situation of black people in the United States has improved over the last five years. This jump in optimism is the highest seen since 1984. A majority of African-Americans also say that Mr. Obama's presidential win has improved race relations in America.

But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Chairman Julian Bond says it was one moment in a long chain of events.

"It's arguable you could say, that we should have been able to do this years and years and years ago," said Bond. "But perhaps it had to wait for the moment, for the man, for the moment-it did have to wait for the man and the moment and had to wait for an awful lot of work that had to be done leading up to this moment."

The inauguration of Barack Obama at the steps of the Capitol was more than just a beginning to a new presidency. For the Cunninghams and many African-Americans, Mr. Obama was a living example of the endless possibilities.

"So to grow up, and to tell my kids that they can be anything they want to be in the world, there's no barriers anymore, you can go as far as you want to go, and to have this culminate before us, and we're there to see it, just unreal, surreal," said Vurtis.

For the next generation of Cunninghams, like their 11-year-old daughter Gwen, the realization of the first black president is already taking effect.

"It lets me know that I can run for president, because I am an African American and, and I can become the first female president," said Gwen.

The Cunninghams' are still smiling over President Obama's successful jump over the race barrier. But they say the economy and the ongoing wars are tough problems he needs to tackle.

"There's still life going on, but we are still very excited," said And we wish the president well," said Cunninghams. "He definitely has his work cut out for him. He definitely does."

Mr. Obama is trying a more hands-on approach to help address these problems and will present his plans later this month in his State of the Union address.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.