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About Witnessing History

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.


Field reports from NBC and affiliates

Archives for November 2, 2008 - November 8, 2008

'I'm a ball of emotions'

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 09:56 pm CT by Bill Dedman
Filed under Bronx 43 comments—join the discussion

081104electionshaday1Watching the election returns on TV at home in the Bronx, the family of sisters Debra Grant Brown and Ellen Caldwell is "nervous, worried, excited, all of the above," Brown said.

The family has gathered in Brown's living room with their children and friends. First came a dinner of barbecued chicken wings, lima beans and rice. It's not clear how long 3-year-old Nyem Badawri, Ellen's grandson, will stay up, but the rest of the family is in it for the long haul. Debra's daughters are Shaday Brown, one of the students we have followed from Validus Prep, a public school in the Bronx, and Fatimah Hernandez, a special-ed teacher at the school.

As Pennsylvania was called for Sen. Barack Obama by CNN at 8:40 p.m., Shaday started applauding with her cousin Habibah.

"I'm a ball of emotions," Fatimah said.

Long resentments die slowly. There is talk of the election being stolen out from under a black candidate. Or even of Obama, if he wins, not being allowed to run the country.


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Ushering in history?

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 09:29 pm CT by Mike Stuckey
Filed under Seattle 8 comments—join the discussion


Rick Graham and Rosemary Irvin wave Obama signs at traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle. (John Brecher / msnbc.com)

On a day they hoped would end in history being made by U.S. voters, Rosemary Irvin and Rick Graham huddled in the chilly air high above traffic-choked Interstate 5 and made a little history of their own.

Strangers to each other until they met in the noon hour on an overpass in the city’s University District, the pair of graying but well-preserved baby boomers joined forces to take direct political action for the first time in either of their lives.

Three hours later, with the setting sun barely peeking through the heavy cloud cover, they were still waving their blue-and-white Obama-Biden signs at the passing, often honking, motorists below.

“I never thought I would be standing on an overpass waving a sign,” said Irvin, 57, an attorney.


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Hollywood Obama party has a Latin theme

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 08:35 pm CT by msnbc.com
Filed under Field correspondents 4 comments—join the discussion

Hollywood is Barack Obama country.

Obama raised more than $14 million from the entertainment industry on his way to raising $84 million in California -- two-thirds more than he raised in New York.

Tuesday afternoon at the Media Shop, a television and film production facility, Latinos -- an increasingly crucial Democratic bloc -- were putting the finishing touches on an Election Night party, anticipating an Obama win. As people dribbled in, a gigantic television screen on the wall was blasting the early returns, with  most states still "too early to call." But the collective mood was festive. Individually, the party preparers said they were cautiously optimistic, but they were already brimming with pride.


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Not even in his lifetime?

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 08:21 pm CT by Bill Dedman
Filed under Bronx 61 comments—join the discussion


Edward Grant, 64, with his grandson Nikolas Simmons, 7, after voting at the Bronx County Building Tuesday evening. At left is Barbara Coto, 54, Nikolas' grandmother. (John Makely / msnbc.com)

In the ornate Bronx County Courthouse, under murals of Revolutionary War heroes who fought at Pell's Point in the Bronx, 64-year-old Edward Grant brought his entire family to vote. As a black man who grew up in Harlem and fought in Vietnam, he said he hadn't expected to see a black man win the presidency for "another 20 or 30 years." In other words, "Not in my lifetime."

That's not all. His daughter, 28-year-old Nicole Cote, pointed to her son, 7-year-old Nikolas Simmons, adding, "I wasn't even sure in his lifetime!"

Young Nikolas punched on a video game, racing cars while his mother and grandparents talked. He was wearing his school uniform of white shirt and clip-on tie from Christ the King School in the Bronx. In the mock election at his school, he voted for "Barack Obama," he said brightly, giving the election tally in his school: 135 for Obama, 35 for Sen. John McCain.

Back when Nikolas first heard about Obama being a candidate, his mother recalled, "He said, 'Mommy, Obama's not going to win. He's brown.'"


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Obama supporters have hope in Harlem

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 07:28 pm CT by Marty Wolk
Filed under Field correspondents 3 comments—join the discussion


Richard Crowder in Harlem (msnbc.com)

Roberto St. Louis isn't old enough to vote, but he’s still doing his part to help put Barack Obama in the White House. The 17-year-old was spending Election Day volunteering at Obama’s Harlem campaign headquarters on at 133rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

“My mind is thinking [Obama’s] spirit is so wonderful.  He’s so direct,” Roberto said.  “That’s what this country needs right now.”


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This 'redneck' voted Obama

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 06:54 pm CT by Kari Huus
Filed under Nashville 45 comments—join the discussion


Bobbi Hamilton has been changing tires in Nashville for 53 years. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com)

Bobbi Hamilton has been changing tires in this part of the city since he was 11 years old, so he knows Nashville. Now, at 65, he is predicting something he could not have imagined as a younger man—that the state of Tennessee will support an African-American, Barack Obama, for president.

“Ten or 15 years ago the state wouldn’t vote for a woman or a black,” he says. “But times change, and you gotta change with them.”


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Record turnout or no, some voters opt out

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 05:01 pm CT by Kari Huus
Filed under Nashville 53 comments—join the discussion


Tom Crawford isn't voting in this year's presidential election.  "Ain't gonna be any change," he says.  (Jim Seida / msnbc.com)

Tom Crawford, 61, voted once, but it was a long time ago, and he sees nothing to gain by starting again now. As he sits eating sugar wafers on the front porch in a shady trailer home in northeast Nashville, his view in short is that it’s a long time since politicians really made a difference to him.

What he would like is for politicians to “Do their jobs. Stop gang violence.” Pressed for more thoughts, he adds: “Increase the minimum wage.”


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Defying stereotypes at Home Depot

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 04:13 pm CT by Mike Stuckey
Filed under Seattle 66 comments—join the discussion


Army veteran Edwin "Mac" McAdoo works as a day laborer, seeking jobs outside Home Depot. (John Brecher / mnsbc.com) 

A Home Depot parking lot isn’t a typical venue to discuss presidential politics, but this isn’t a  typical election, so we stopped by to work the crowd and see what we could find.

Among the scrum of eager day laborers clamoring for work at the North Seattle store on U.S. Highway 99 was Edwin “Mac” McAdoo. Among the shoppers was general contractor Phil Teller.

And as Sen. Barack Obama’s historic but improbable journey has defied conventional political wisdom, McAdoo and Teller defied political stereotypes.

With a mane of blond hair tucked under a Seattle Seahawks cap and a compact, hard-as-nails physique, McAdoo, 50, appears to be a poster boy of the proletariat, the kind of hard-working common man whom trade unions and Democrats take for granted.

But he’s rooting for Republican Sen. John McCain.


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Modest hopes, days extraordinary

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 03:50 pm CT by msnbc.com
Filed under Field correspondents 0 comments—join the discussion

PHILADELPHIA – The old man all but skipped through the glass front doors, out into the light rain, a smile on his face. When I asked him his story we stepped back under the overhang by the front door of the new G.W. Carver High School for Science and Engineering in North Philadelphia, where Otis Robertson had just voted.
"I'll be 80 Christmas Eve," he said. "Never missed voting for president since I was 18. But this..." his voice trailed off and came up with a gentle laugh. Then he added, "I figured one day it might happen, yes, in my lifetime." 


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Watching the world change from the porch

Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 12:34 pm CT by Kari Huus
Filed under Nashville 258 comments—join the discussion


Willy Morris, 84, shares his thoughts from his porch in north Nashville, Tenn. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com)

At 84, Willy Morris has seen a lot of candidates come and go. He’s voted in a lot of elections, and seen a lot of promises made and broken. He’s not volunteering who he voted for this time, but the Nashville resident says the presence of Sen. Barack Obama on the ballot means the world has already changed.

“You had Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and they didn’t get this far,” says Morris, a retired produce worker and Army veteran. “This boy (Obama) is leading the pack.”


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