Local Politics

Triangle reacts to Obama victory

Posted November 5, 2008 12:20 a.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2008 9:15 p.m. EST

— Crowds danced in the streets, wept, lifted their voices in prayer and brought traffic to a standstill in communities across the nation early Wednesday in reaction to the election of Democrat Barack Obama as president of the United States. The reaction spread rapidly across the Triangle.

In Raleigh, hundreds of people gathered in front of the State Capitol, celebrating and singing.

"When I first heard, I started crying. I started shouting. I was very, very happy," said student Ebony Blount. "I'm just so excited on the inside. My heart is just bursting. It's just open right about now."

Students from N.C. State, Shaw University and the University of Chapel Hill took to the streets just after midnight in a celebration that was mostly peaceful and short-lived.

The opposite reaction could be seen on N.C. State's campus Wednesday morning as campus workers cleaned racist graffiti off the Free Expression Tunnel. Overnight, someone had painted "Black House" and other messages believed to be derogatory toward the election of the first black president.

In Durham, a gathering of Democrats sought to heal the wounds of a divisive campaign.

"We’ve been divided by party affiliation. We’ve been divided by gender. We’ve been divided by race,” Rev. Melvin Whitley said at a Unity Breakfast sponsored by the Durham Voter Coalition.

Whitley was looking to put aside those differences.

"The dream of democracy is being able to use that diversity to move people forward," he added.

Pastor Rachel Green had high hopes for Durham.

"We as a people need to come together. ... I think this will draw us closer as a city, as a state, as a nation to begin the healing process that all men were created equal," she said.

State Sen. Floyd McKissick celebrated his re-election at the breakfast, saying, "I think African-Americans see this as a new horizon. We see an unfullfilled promise that has become filled through the hopes and aspirations of all Americans, and we are all very proud of what America represents and what it has become as a result of this victory.”

Members of the largely African-American student body at St. Augustine's College gathered to watch Obama's victory speech again Wednesday morning. Many of them had voted for the first time Tuesday.

"It was incredible. People were so excited, screaming, running in the halls. It was crazy," freshman Paige Hines said.

Obama's victory is a symbol of what is possible for the mostly African-American student body, administrators said.

Professors – who could remember segregated cafeterias, water fountains and buses – told students that the election of an African-American won't make their lives easier. It will raise the bar for black students, some faculty members said.

Sophomore Queshon Lucas acknowleged that Election Night was just a beginning for those who want to see the change Obama promised.

"People think that things are going to change as soon as possible," he said. "It's not. It's going to take a while."

Across the country, voters tempered their reactions with reality.

"I was born in the civil rights time. To see this happening is unbelievable. We've got the first black president. A black president!" said Mike Louis, a 53-year-old black man who got teary-eyed as he watched the election results on a giant video board in Cincinnati's Fountain Square. "It's not cured now, but this is a step to curing this country of racism. This is a big, giant step toward getting this country together."

Elsewhere, some Americans were wary, but hopeful. In Iowa, Sam Gipple, 60, said he voted for John McCain because he worries Obama lacks the experience he needs to be an effective leader.

"I'd give him a chance and hope he keeps some of the good promises he made," said Gipple, the transportation director for Iowa County.

Raymond Stroud, 63, of Little Rock, Ark., considers himself a conservative and supported McCain – barely. He called the Republican "probably the lesser of two evils."

In Chicago, Obama's hometown, an estimated 125,000 people gathered on an unusually warm November night to greet the senator at a delirious victory rally at Grant Park.

"It's fantastic," said Hulon Johnson, 71, a retired Chicago public school principal. "I've always told my kids this was possible; now they'll have to believe me."

The Cary woman who won a front-row seat for Obama's address had a night to remember.

"People are ready for change. I think (we're) turning over a new leaf as Americans," Sara Reese said.