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Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

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Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

Election 2008

Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91181127/91181106" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Throughout Barack Obama's candidacy, many black Americans have grappled with a range of emotions: doubt, initially; incredible pride; even fear for his safety. Now that Obama is the first black presumptive presidential nominee of a major American political party, do African-Americans consider the triumph a turning point for the nation?

Jewel Plummer works as a secretary at the Black History Museum in Alexandria, Va. She spends her days walking among exhibits that chart the progress of black America, from slavery to civil rights and beyond. Still, the 56-year-old assumed that there was one piece of African-American history that would not happen in her lifetime. She never expected to be able to vote for a black person for president.

So it was with great anticipation that Plummer watched Obama's speech Tuesday night, as he bumped fists with his wife Michelle and then took the podium to make the following statement: "Tonight, I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States of America."

Almost 24 hours later, Plummer still seemed a little dazed.

"I don't think it has sunk in, the reality of it — of the first black president of the United States. Did you hear what I just said? The first black president of the United States," she said.

She clearly relishes saying those words. For her, it is a watershed moment for America.

"This is the first time, to me, that it truly represents 'we the people.' Finally, equal rights, not being judged on the color of your skin but the character — that's what this whole thing means to me."

Two blocks away, at the Blue & White diner, Reese King stopped for lunch. He's a tall man with muscled arms covered in tattoos. Like Plummer, he said he never expected to see a black man get a real crack at the presidency.

Also like Plummer, King made a point of watching Tuesday's speech. He said that he found the experience profoundly moving — "I almost cried" — and agreed that the results have made him think differently about racism in America.

But not everyone at the diner agrees with King on that. Kitchen worker Douglas Peterson said he doesn't think the nomination is evidence of racial healing.

"The world's not ready for a black president," he said. He isn't sure how to explain what has happened so far, but he is sure of how it will end: "They will kill him, assassinate him. I thought they were going to ... during the primaries."

A number of people worried aloud in that way, including Robert Whitit, who fervently believed that a black president was impossible until Obama started winning red states.

"So many people of non-color have voted for him. I was kind of blown away by that," he said.

But, like Peterson, Whitit said he doesn't feel like he needs to rethink his assumptions about racism in America: "Oh, no. I deal with it every day as a black man."

And, he pointed out, Obama doesn't have the presidency in the bag.

"Hey, Florida's been a happening spot over the last three or four elections, eh? Who knows what will happen, you know?"

There's still a long time between now and November.

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