Obama, First African-American President-Elect

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Barack Obama is promising supporters that "change has come." Obama defeated Republican John McCain in one hard-fought battleground state after another on his way to becoming the nation's first black president. More than 100,000 people gathered in Grant Park in downtown Chicago to hear Obama's victory speech.


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. More than a hundred thousand people gathered last night in Grant Park in downtown Chicago. They streamed in hoping to see history, and they got their wish. At 10:01 p.m. local time, Barack Obama was declared president-elect of the United States and the crowd erupted.

(Soundbite of Democratic election night celebration, Grant Park, Chicago)

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

MONTAGNE: There was dancing. There were cheers. There was unbridled joy as the first African-American to be elected president took the stage to thank his supporters. NPR's Don Gonyea is here with this report.

DON GONYEA: It was a powerful moment. Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their young daughters, Malia and Sasha, strode onto the stage and waved to the crowd. The president-elect kissed his wife and then stood alone at the microphone.

(Soundbite of Democratic election night celebration, Grant Park, Chicago)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

GONYEA: Bathed in floodlights, Obama responded to the weight of the moment with a speech that was willfully low-key. He praised his opponent, Senator John McCain, and then he spoke directly to his supporters.

President-elect OBAMA: But I know you didn't do this just to win an election. But I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime: two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

GONYEA: It was a president-elect telling the nation that there is serious work to do.

President-elect OBAMA: The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.

GONYEA: And he spoke to the rest of the world as well.

President-elect OBAMA: To those who would tear the world down. We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security, we support you.

GONYEA: Senator Obama also told the story of one supporter, a 106-year-old woman named Ann Nixon Cooper who was born at a time when her skin color and her gender barred her from voting. Cooper, Obama said, saw the Depression, two world wars, the civil rights movement.

President-elect OBAMA: A man touched down on the moon. A wall came down in Berlin. A world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen and cast her vote because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes, we can.

GONYEA: Yes, we can. That phrase became a mantra for the Obama campaign. Some in the crowd wore buttons that read "Yes, we did." Two sisters-in-law from Chicago's south suburbs, Carolyn Marafield(ph) and Anne Smith(ph), were there last night.

Ms. CAROLYN MARAFIELD: I believe that he will make a change. I believe he is a great role model for black people everywhere, for families. And as I've told them before, there is hope for a lost community. I think it's going to be great. It's fabulous. I'm excited about it.

Ms. ANNE SMITH: Yes, and I believe he will make a change for all people, no matter what race they are.

Ms. MARAFIELD: Absolutely.

Ms. SMITH: You know, and that's what I love about him. He's the man.

GONYEA: Senator Obama ended his speech the way he ended so many during this long, long campaign.

President-elect OBAMA: That out of many, we are one. That while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people. Yes, we can. Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

GONYEA: Barack Obama, the president-elect of the United States. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Chicago.

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