A night of eloquent emotions
Posted Wednesday, November 5 at 04:00 am CT by msnbc.com
Three generations of African Americans react to the news of Barack Obama's victory. Msnbc.com reports from New York, Nashville and Seattle.
In one home, news of Barack Obama’s election brought screams of joy and amazement. In another, it was met with stunned silence followed by tears.
Those were the reactions that msnbc.com reporters witnessed when they spent Election Night with two of the three African-American families we profiled last week to launch the Witnessing History report.
We were anticipating that feelings would run high if Obama became the first African-American to be elected U.S. president. But just as the long lead-up to the vote didn’t prepare 17-year-old Shaday Brown and her family in the Bronx and Tammy Baker and her family in Nashville, Tenn., for the reality of an Obama victory, our expectations were trumped by the intensity, the range and the eloquence of the emotions we witnessed in the first minutes after the announcement.
That outpouring was by no means limited to the African-American community.
All of the people we talked with in the Bronx, whether African-American or Hispanic, the students at Validus Prep and their parents and grandparents spoke of Obama as their standardbearer. Yes, he's multiracial, said the African-Americans, and so are we all. Yes, he's African-American, said the Hispanics, but he's opening doors for us, too.
And there were signs that Obama has persuaded many who might not have looked beyond his ethnicity a decade ago to reconsider the importance of skin color.
In Nashville, Tenn., self-proclaimed “redneck” Bobbi Hamilton, 65, said, “Ten or 15 years ago the state wouldn’t vote for a woman or a black. But times change, and you gotta change with them.”
The president-elect’s appeal also cuts across age groups.
The younger Americans, the immigrant families we met in the Bronx, spoke in terms of Obama's meaning for their future.
The Brown and Caldwell families, with a long history in the center of African-American life and literature in Harlem and the Bronx, spoke also of the past:
"Our ancestors died for this moment," said Ellen Caldwell.
While the Browns and Caldwells were literally left speechless by the announcement of Obama’s victory, Tammy Baker only thought she was.
The 42-year-old medical company worker and single mom unleashed an ear-splitting shriek when she heard Obama declared the winner, then did her level best to explain what she was feeling as she attempted to process the news.
“We have the first black, the first African-American -- however you want to say it -- as president of the United States.
“This speaks volumes that people are finally able to look across the color line and elect someone simply on his qualifications. … It’s just … I mean, phew! And it’s not just black and white. It’s black, white, Asian. It’s everybody.”
But as the elation dissipated, Baker also illustrated the challenge of high expectations that await Obama.
After raptly watching Obama’s acceptance speech, nodding and at times sighing as he spoke, she visibly changed gears.
“Now I’m in my wait-and-see mode,” said Baker, always watchful. “Now it’s done, he’s our president-elect. Where do we go from here? I hope he keeps his word.”
Marilyn J. Berger, who hosted a party at her home in Seattle celebrating the election of Barack Obama.(John Brecher / msnbc.com)
In Seattle, msnbc.com’s reporters joined Marilyn Berger and fellow Obama supporters at a party in her 18th-floor apartment in the city’s trendy Belltown neighborhood.
Berger, a law professor at Seattle University, and her husband, Albert, a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington, hosted about 20 guests who snacked on hors d’oeuvres and talked quietly as results scrolled across the big screen TV in the living room.
The crowd broke into cheers when the networks called Virginia for Obama. Moments later, wine glasses clinked and a wave of hugs and high-fives swept the room as the networks put the West Coast states in Obama’s column and his electoral vote count topped the 270 needed to secure the election.
The room fell quiet a few minutes later as the guests listened attentively to McCain’s entire concession speech.
Marilyn Berger’s fellow law professor, Henry McGee Jr., the first African-American to win tenure at Seattle University and on the couple’s guest list, did not attend. But he spoke with msnbc.com by telephone just as Ohio was called for the Illinois senator.
McGee, 75, who helped register voters in Mississippi during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, said Obama’s election was “an almost unbelievable historical breakthrough.”
And he predicted that it would reverberate around the globe in the years to come. “It’s a really, really wonderful day for the United States when he walks into the United Nations,” he said.
-- Bill Dedman, Kari Huus and Mike Stuckey, msnbc.com