Obama victory sets off jubilation

Obama victory sets off jubilation

Chicago: From New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, to the avenue in Atlanta where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, to Oakland, California, Americans black and white celebrated Barack Obama’s election with tears, the honking of horns, screams of joy, arms lifted skyward - and memories of civil rights struggles past.

An estimated 100,000 people who had crowded into Grant Park in Chicago to greet Obama erupted in cheers and jubilantly waved American flags as TV news announced the Illinois senator had been elected the first black president. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader who had made two White House bids himself, had tears streaming down his face.

Gatherings in churches and homes spilled outdoors, with people dancing in the streets.

In Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, a center of African-American culture, the roar of thousands of people gathered in a plaza near the legendary Apollo Theater could be heard blocks away.

In Oakland, California, on the other side of the U.S., traffic stopped in Jack London Square as celebrating drivers honked and crowds took to the streets, dancing to the music of a live band.

“This has been a long time coming," said Linda Bogard, 57, who wore a bright orange vest and matching baseball hat studded with rhinestones spelling “Obama" and threw her hands up in the air as if in prayer. “It’s been a good fight and a great victory."

Elsewhere, there were smaller, quieter celebrations.

In Cleveland, Obama supporters gathered at a house party and held champagne flutes above their heads for a toast. “To the first African-American president in the history of the United States!" they shouted.

In Tampa, Florida, cheers and applause broke out in a crowded bar as CNN called the race for Obama. The blare of cars honking outside wafted through the bar’s open front door.

“It’s a landslide! It’s a landslide!" shouted 51-year-old Mark Bias, who was dressed in a tall satin Uncle Sam hat and red, white and blue cape. “This means that America will be back on the right track again," said Bias, who co-owns what he described as a “gay pride" shop.

“What it really means for the country is that there’s going to be a major change in the direction ... (for) the priorities of the regular person, and not just the wealthy," said Carrie West, 54, as bar patrons chanted “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma."

At Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero, was emotional as he took the pulpit before Obama’s victory was announced.

He said he was hardly able to believe that 40 years after he was left beaten and bloody on an Alabama bridge as he marched for the right for blacks to vote, he had cast a ballot for Obama.

“This is a great night," he said. “It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving."

As the news of a projected Obama victory flashed across a TV screen, men in the nearly all-black crowd pumped their fists and bowed their heads. Women wept as they embraced their children, and many in the crowd high-fived and raised their arms.

Screams of “Thank you, Lord!" were heard throughout the sanctuary as the Rev. Al Sharpton took the stage with his arms raised in victory.

“At this hour, many of us never, ever, even until the last days, felt that we would ever see this," he told the cheering crowd. “We are grateful to those who paid the price."

The audience joined hands as the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer led a prayer for the president-elect before singing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing," which is regarded as the black national anthem.

“Sisters and brothers, it looks like we have moved from Bloody Sunday to Triumphant Tuesday," Warnock said, referring to the Alabama march led by Lewis that was violently suppressed but sparked support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “It’s morning in America."

Martin Luther King III told the crowd that history was being made.

“Our father used to say that a voteless people is a powerless people," he said. “Something different happened in this election cycle."

Surveying the scene, Mattie Bridgewater whispered from her seat, “I just can’t believe it. Not in my lifetime."

Bridgewater said she went to the same elementary school as Emmett Till, the boy from Chicago whose murder in Mississippi was one of the catalysts of the civil rights movement. Both she and her 92-year-old mother, who still lives in Chicago, voted for Obama.

“I’m sitting here in awe," she said. “This is a moment in history that I just thank my God I was allowed to live long enough to see. Now, when I tell my students they can be anything they want to be, that includes president of the United States."