Obama's Win Inspires Dreams of Possibilities
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
It was all over the headlines last week: Barack Obama's historic win in the Iowa Democratic caucus. The Illinois senator still has a long way to go before he's even considered to be a final choice for the presidency. But a lot of folks, including many Black Americans, have started taking Obama more seriously since his win.
Commentator Afi-Odelia Scruggs says seeing a black man do so well so early in the race got her dreaming about the possibilities.
AFI-ODELIA SCRUGGS: On the night of Barack Obama's victory in Iowa's Democratic caucus, I picked up the telephone and called my great aunt. She's the one in her 80s. She's the one who lives in Chicago. She's the one who, like me, stays up all night long, reading and watching the news. Aunt Martha, I said, we might actually see a black president in our lifetime. What did you say? She asked.
I repeat it myself because I've started to cry. Now I've been talking to relatives all night. I come from a family of yellow dog Democrats. My sister is a teacher and an activist. She weighs candidates by their stance on education issues and on No Child Left Behind. With her, I talked practicalities.
Could Obama beat Huckabee? Could Obama overcome the hostility and bigotry that often hamstrings overqualified African-American candidates? But I wanted to talk wonder and hope, so I called my aunt. Together, we savored Obama's triumph and considered its implications. Did you see all those white people at his victory speech? She said. Yeah, I answered. Obama picked up votes in a state were only two and a half percent of the population is African-American. What can we say? This is what our ancestors hoped for, I said. This is history, she replied.
Who would know better than she? Aunt Martha was born in Nashville, Tennessee. She came up during the years when Jim Crow was strangling African-American hopes and destroying black people's accomplishments. Yet, she'd finish highs school and college. In 1942, when she and her sister displayed their college diplomas, they started a family tradition that will continue for three generations. She had experience depression, and to some measure defeated it. And she'd left a legacy for us to uphold. I was born in 1954, five months after the Brown v. Board ruling. If my Aunt Martha lived a life filled with limitations, I've lived a life of potential to be achieved. She sat in segregated classrooms. I sat in barely integrated ones.
She'd seen African-Americans barred from voting unless they could pay a dollar poll tax. I've seen African-Americans ran into a booth, cast a ballot and hurry to the next errand. She had seen 80 years of struggles and victory, I had seen 50 years of accomplishments and setbacks. But it seemed we could both witness an achievement we dared to dream about. When we talked, her voice was joyful and confident. I was the one in tears. I was humbled. I was crying for her generation and the ones before it. I was crying for my aunt, my grandmother and those in the twilight of their years. They could look back over bitter experience and smiled just a little because Obama won the Iowa caucus, because just for a night we had overcome.
(Soundbite of song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow")
Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows fall?
CHIDEYA: Afi-Odelia Scruggs is an independent journalist, writer and digital storyteller who lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
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