Americans reflect on historic nature of Obama candidacyby Linda Fantin, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — What does it mean that Barack Obama is the first, major party black presidential nominee?
To Dickell Fonda of Evanston, Ill., it means no longer revising history, "shading in the faces" of historical and political figures in children's books for her grandchildren as she did for biracial son 22 years ago.
"Now all children of color will finally see themselves reflected in their story and history books -- and it will be a given that they, too, can aspire to whatever they dream," Fonda said. "And no one will have to tell them, because they will finally see it, live it and know it."
More than 17,000 people witnessed Obama's history-making moment in person. Twice that many came to downtown St. Paul.
But, in a nod to Obama's Internet-savvy base, his speech reverberated far and wide online, via blogs, Twitter, a popular social networking site, and through American Public Media's Public Insight Network.
First-hand accounts came from Americans across the country of all persuasions -- political, parental and practical.
Ena Carroll of Whitefish Bay, Wisc., said her older daughters, were never interested in politics in high school. Her 15 year old "talks about this election as if she is going to have a say in its outcome."
"We sit in our little den, like three shut-ins, watching the screen like our lives depend on it, and shush each other so that we can hear every comment made by the people in-the-know, the political barracudas. I will never forget this time, this night, and the wonder of discovery and infectious enthusiasm that my 15-year-old daughter is showing."
Jason Murphy of Fort Sill, Okla., said he planned to don his Obama T-Shirt and park himself in front of the computer, "pressing refresh for updates on the delegate count."
"I need this. I'm a vet of [Operation Iraqi Freedom], and more than an end to the war, the slump in the economy, I need hope that we can make our country whole again...I believe a vote for Barack Obama is a vote against generations of petty tribalism."
Brent Jacobson of Rosemount, Minn., said he won't vote for Obama, but he respects his achievement.
"If racism in America is dead, good riddance to it. God made all men in his image, it is about time we start seeing each other as a work of God's art, not as black, white, Indian, Native American, etc. All U.S. Citizens are Americans first, not African-American, Norwegian-American, etc. It is time to stop dividing on race in this country."
The last time Barbara Harrison, of Shoreview, Minn., witnessed this much enthusiasm in a presidential election was 1968, when she was 11 -- the same age her daughter, Ana, is now.
"She tells me that he represents hope for our country, a way out of the war, and she recognizes the significance of his heritage. For me…his candidacy is a sign that American is multicultural, open to all, and that hope is alive, just as it was 40 years ago when I was 11."
Lalita Amos of Indianapolis said she has a family altar -- a collection of photos and other mementos of the people who are important to her. Obama's campaign literature is there, between pictures of her mother and grandmother.
"My grandmother lived under Jim Crow with its limits on the Black vote. She moved, as part of the Great Migration from the South into Indiana for more economic opportunity and freedom. She's well into her 80's now and is stricken with Alzheimer's. She doesn't know that a Black man is poised to be the Democratic nominee. Her daughter, my mother, died a few years ago and missed this momentous time. I cast my ballot for both of them."
Joe Hinz of Newport, Minn., said he would eschew Obama to watch the Twins-Orioles game.
"This is indeed an historic moment for the people of the United States of America. Let the vetting process begin and thank God for conservative talk radio. Had it been taking place for the last twelve months, this man would not have been the candidate of choice."
Cari Lucas of Pequot Lakes, Minn., said the moment means "absolutely nothing."
"A candidate's race has nothing to do with his effectiveness or good judgment. We are not looking for firsts in a President. We are looking for adequate leadership. This is a farce to say the least."
Elizabeth Wahl of Albuquerque said she watched the speech on television with her husband and daughter.
"This is extremely important to me, not only because another implicit barrier to power will be shattered, and the most visible barrier in our culture, race, but also because I think that the very nomination of Barack Obama will send a message to the world that the United States is no longer a government of white men, for white men, and by white men."
When Rebecca Lund of Maplewood, Minn., and her husband learned that Obama had surpassed the number of delegates to secure the nomination, they said: "Finally, it's over." But is it?
"Though excited and gratified to finally see Barack Obama secure the Democratic nomination, I can't help but feel frustration with the Clinton campaign for fostering a divide among our party. Barack's decision to hold his victory moment in St. Paul, in the same spot that John McCain will be standing during the Republican convention, sent a message to the GOP that he is ready and able to take them on in the fall."
Diane Peterson of White Bear Lake, Minn., called the Obama rally a public relations event, nothing more.
"Big deal. Sen. Obama's recent successes are no news to me, I'm a Green. We Greens will be endorsing our own candidate for president on Saturday in Mankato, and it looks very likely it will be Cynthia McKinney, an African American Congresswoman who served several terms representing Atlanta. McKinney isn't licking any corporate boots--now that's progress -- a candidate the average American can believe in and support with their vote against our masters of slavery-in-effect, the corporations."
Joe Schaedler of Minneapolis agreed, this was not the big moment.
"The momentous part will come in November, when he becomes, or fails to become, the president. His newly sealed up nomination here is really just a prelude to the bigger contest, whose successful completion by this extraordinary gentleman is the true mark of greatness in our nation…That is the true moment for which I hold my applause and adulation."