African Americans React With Tears, Pride to Obama Victory


Millions of Americans of all races, colors and ethnic groups are celebrating Barack Obama's presidential victory. But for many African Americans who grew up experiencing discrimination and prejudice, the election of the first African American president is an overwhelming event they never thought they would see in their lifetimes. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

After hearing the news of Mr. Obama's victory, many African Americans across the country danced in the streets, bringing traffic to a standstill in some places. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of residents gathered outside the White House, banging on drums and chanting "Bush is gone!" There were similar scenes in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York City.

President-elect Barack Obama gave his victory speech to a jubilant crowd of more than a 100,000 people in his home town of Chicago, acknowledging the history-making nature of the moment.

"It has been a long time coming," he said. "But tonight, because of what we did on this day, change is coming to America."

Speaking to MSNBC, civil rights hero and Representative John Lewis of Georgia summed up the gamut of emotions many African Americans are feeling.

"When I heard last evening that Pennsylvania had gone for Barack Obama, I think I had an out-of-body experience," he said. "I jumped, and I shouted for joy. And my feet left the floor, and I just kept jumping. Something lifted me up, and I shed some tears. And I tell you, I have cried so much during the past few hours, I don't think I have any tears left."

Lewis said he could hardly believe the news, which came 40 years after he was beaten and left bloody on a bridge in Selma, Alabama as he took part in a protest march held to push for Black voting rights in the United States. Lewis was also a close associate of the slain civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King.

Many older African Americans grew up under repressive laws that were in force from 1876 to 1965 in parts of the United States, especially the south. Those laws mandated segregation of the races in public schools, public places and public transportation. The civil rights legislation in the 1960s ended legalized racial segregation and gave African Americans voting rights.

Internationally acclaimed African American poet and author Maya Angelou spoke to CBS News on the morning after the election.

" I am so proud," she said. "I am filled, I can hardly talk without weeping. I am so filled with pride for my country. What do you say? We are growing up!"

Washington Post columnist and MSNBC News analyst Eugene Robinson is African American, and he told viewers Tuesday night he would never forget this defining moment.

"I think the world will never forget this moment because it is a moment of demarcation," he said. "There was a before and an after. We don't know what happens in the after, but we know it is different than the before. And it feels different to me to be an American tonight."

VOA correspondents fanned out across the country to record voters' impressions. Celebrating at a street party in Miami's "Little Haiti" neighborhood, restaurant owner and Haitian American Lucy Coma said her vote was not about race.

"We don't vote for Obama because he is black, we vote because we want change," she said. "That's everybody, white Hispanic, Asian. All the things he promised, that is why we vote for him. We are so happy."

Haitian American Julian Louis was also at the street party.

"This is a big deal for African Americans," he said. "It is about time we had some changes in life. Everybody is happy, everybody is proud. They are happy to make it, the first black president out there.

Thomas, 36, is a graphic designer who talked to VOA outside a polling place in New York City's Harlem neighborhood.

"Now when your grandmother tells you that, baby you can be the president of the United States, hey, you don't have to look at her doubtful now," he said. "You can say it is the truth."

Barack Obama will move into the White House with his wife Michelle and their two young daughters Malia and Sasha. The first African American "First Family" will likely be a powerful and hopeful symbol for many. 

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