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As Barack Obama became the first black candidate to win the nation’s highest elected office, msnbc.com was on hand to document the thoughts and emotions of members of three generations of African-Americans. Click on the photos below to read a specific thread, or on the NBC logo to read field reports on the role of race in the election. Or you can scan the posts at right to read them in chronological order.

Validus Prep students

Students at Validus Prep, the Bronx, N.Y.

Tammy Baker

Tammy Baker, office worker, Nashville, Tenn.

Henry McGee Jr.

Henry McGee Jr., law professor, Seattle, Wa.

Correspondent

Field reports from NBC and affiliates

'To get us out of a jam, we trusted a black man'

Posted Wednesday, November 5 at 02:44 pm CT by Bill Dedman
Filed under 277 comments—join the discussion

The election of Barack Obama is historic, but what does it mean?

For some perspective, msnbc.com turned to a panel of historians who have focused on race in America.

You can read all of the historian commentaries by following this link.

Here's an excerpt, from Brown University's Robert O. Self:

"What is most important about Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is that for the first time in the nation’s history, to get us out of a jam we turned to, and trusted, a black man. And, frankly, who better? For who has worked harder for, invested more in, and believed more passionately in this nation than its black citizens? None. Perhaps it high time that, collectively as a nation, we came to realize that."

Readers are invited to read what the historians have to say, and return here to offer your own comments.

In response to some of the comments here, Prof. Self adds, "Your comments are helpful and appreciated, if a few of them are overstated. All of those who wrote that for them this campaign was not about race, I take your point. Indeed, Obama could not have won if he had run any other campaign than a 'non-racial' one. Further, I agree that history will judge him as one of the most remarkable people to have run for office, regardless of his race. He will be judged, in the end, by what he and the nation accomplish in the next 4 or 8 years, not by the color of his skin."

Below is Prof. Self's full commentary.

Remember, you can read what all the historians have to say by following this link.

The United States is a young country. Too young, perhaps. We do not always appreciate what the French call the longue duree — the long term of history. But that is the best vantage from which to view Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential campaign. Has racism vanished? No. White privilege? No.

But is there a thread of history connecting Obama with Denmark Vesey, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Pauli Murray, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fanny Lou Hamer, Stokely Carmichael, John Lewis, Shirley Chisholm, Marion Wright Edelman, and a long list of others? Yes. Without a doubt.

African-American history has defined the longue duree in the United States. Slavery could not be ended in 200 years, much less in a single generation. Jim Crow took nearly a hundred years to eradicate. Civil rights and full equality, after three generations of tireless work, are an ongoing work-in-progress. The persistence of the black "freedom struggle," dating to the 1620s, is one of the defining elements of the history of this nation.

Is Obama’s victory a chapter in that history? Yes and no. Our oldest, deepest, most persistent myth, that of race, can also be our most superficial. Too much ink has been spilled in declaring Obama a "post-racial" candidate. What? How can the son of an African immigrant, in the land that stole nearly three centuries of labor from Africa in the name of white racial supremacy, be post-racial? He can’t.

And that is the beautiful irony of race in America. It is fixed and fluid at the same time. Obama both embodies and transcend his, and our, "race." As the inheritor of a political tradition that stretches from Vesey to King, from Susan B. Anthony to Franklin Roosevelt, Obama is the liberal citizen triumphant, the citizen who exists beyond color and speaks to our common destiny. But he is also the prodigal black son, the inheritor of the injuries of racial chauvinism who rises despite the burden.

What is most important about Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is that for the first time in the nation’s history, to get us out of a jam we turned to, and trusted, a black man. And, frankly, who better? For who has worked harder for, invested more in, and believed more passionately in this nation than its black citizens? None. Perhaps it high time that, collectively as a nation, we came to realize that.

You can read what all the historians have to say by following this link.

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