Think about the following:
· 1789 – The U. S Constitution declares that Black Americans were only three-fifths of a human being.
· 1857 – Dred Scott decision was handed down by the Supreme Court
· 1896 – The separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
· 1954- The Supreme Court supports the idea of educational equality in Brown v. Board of Education.
· 1964 – President Lyndon Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Bill that was approved by congress.
· 1965 – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act on August 6th.
· 1989 – Douglas Wilder of Virginia becomes the first African-American elected governor of a state in modern times.
· 2008 – Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is elected president of the United States of America.
As I tuned in to watch the election returns on the evening of November 4th, I watched with great anticipation the possibility that American history would forever be changed. Throughout the night I called my siblings as well as friends all over the nation. All of us hoping and many of us praying that we would see a new day in American politics where the most powerful political office in the world which had been occupied by 43 White men would finally be shattered. Fortunately, our prayers were answered! While there have been allegations that several of our presidents have had Black ancestry, most notably Warren G. Harding, such information has largely been obscured to the margins of history.
It is virtually impossible to state in one word what the election of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president signifies. This is a nation where Blacks were brought to the shores of Jamestown as slaves and stripped of their native religion, culture and human dignity. Many of our people were perennially lashed down by centuries of cruel and inhumane treatment – Black codes, Jim Crow, legal segregation, poll taxes, oppressive sharecropping systems, lynchings, racial profiling etc … Segregated schools were legal until 1954. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, political and economic apartheid was the law of the land in the South. During the past 40 plus years a more sophisticated and subtle form of racism and racial discrimination has plagued our nation.
No one can deny that President–elect Obama ran a first-rate campaign. He was savvy in his use of the Internet, blogs, and other tools that are a mainstay in the lives of many Americans, especially those under 30. In fact, it was with this group of voters – the millennial generation that Obama made an indelible impact upon. They are young, idealistic, deeply rooted in the idea of multiculturalism, extremely ethnically diverse (a number of them are biracial and multiracial), much more accepting of interracial dating, friendships and marriages, and imperviously immersed in technology. This is a group that saw themselves in Obama. To see racially diverse groups of college students hugging, screaming and cheering alongside one another would have made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., proud. Indeed, he (Obama), personifies the very factors that they (the under 30 crowd) represent. Observing elderly Black people who were fortunate to live long enough to witness such a historical moment as they beamed with pride brought tears to my eyes.
Indeed, polls demonstrated that Obama did well among the majority of all voting groups including White blue-collar workers. This was a demographic where he was not expected to do so. It was a fact that surprised many pundits and other nay-sayers. While he did not receive the majority of White votes, it is apparent that a considerable number of them rejected the paranoid rhetoric of Joe the plumber, the conspiracy theorists and the “Obama is a Muslim/Arab” crowd. They knew their personal economic situation, the current financial condition of the country and realized that something needed to change. These were among the Americans who were dancing in the streets, singing hallelujah in churches and toasting glasses with one another in bars along with other Americans.
Reading various right wing Web sites and listening to several conservative talk radio programs, it is apparent that not everyone was pleased about an Obama victory. Some incensed White callers have been decrying the fact that “those people” (The Obama’s) will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and assuming the title of first family. Such a reality irritates the far right to no end. Some segments of the fringe left who feel that Obama is “not radical enough” are less than content as well.
However, I am sure that I speak for millions of Americans, especially many African-Americans, when I say that the majority of us are thrilled beyond our wildest dreams that a handsome, intelligent, dashing Black man along with his elegant, beautiful wife and adorable daughters will be one of the most important and talked about families in the world. They will soon be the nation’s first family. I went to bed that night thanking God for what had just transpired. Another historical barrier had been shattered. Barack Obama is indeed a phenomenon. Congratulations brother president! Congratulations Mr. President!
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)