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Survey Shows Nearly Twice as Many African-Americans Than in 2007 Say Situation for Blacks Better

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 Barack Obama's presidency appears to be the spark that ignited this rise in optimism and hope.

Nicole Cunningham says it was difficult growing up in the southern U.S. state of Georgia.

It was a time of tense racial animosity, school desegregation, the Ku Klux Klan still active in its displays of hate. But Cunningham says seeing the inauguration of the first black president shows 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," said Nicole Cunningham. "So we have definitely come a long way."

Cunningham and her husband, Vurtis, are both in the military. They took their two children to the inauguration last January to witness the historic event.

"I feel proud because he's the very first," said Tarik Cunningham. "And I know some people they didn't like the idea of having an African American president and he persevered through all that."

"It was a very emotional day," said Nicole Cunningham. "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 than in 2007 say the situation for black people in the United States has improved over the previous five years. This jump in optimism is the highest since 1984. Pew also says a majority of African-Americans say that Mr. Obama's election has improved race relations in America. But civil rights pioneer 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 Julian 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."

President Obama's inauguration at the steps of the Capitol was more than just a beginning to a new presidency. For the Cunninghams and many African-Americans, it was an example of 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...," said Vurtis Cunningham.

And for the next generation of Cunninghams, 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 Cunningham.

The Cunninghams are still thrilled about Mr Obama winning the White House. But they say he faces tough problems.

"There's still life going on, but we are still very excited," said nicole. "And we wish the president well.

"He definitely has his work cut out for him. He definitely does," said Vurtis Cunningham.

That work involves winning the war in Afghanistan and protecting America, reviving the nation's beleaguered economy and passing health care reform. Mr. Obama will present his plans for the country 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.