Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America? 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 political party, do African-Americans consider the triumph a turning point for the nation?
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Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

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Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

Obama's Triumph: A Turning Point for America?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne. Barack Obama is now the first African-American to claim the presidential nomination of a major party. Throughout his candidacy, many black Americans have grappled with a range of emotions - doubt initially, incredible pride, and even fear for his safety. NPR's Alix Spiegel talked to African-Americans about this week's political triumph and whether they think it marks a true turning point for Americans.

ALIX SPIEGEL: Jule Plumber works as a secretary at the Black History Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. She's 56 years old, a polished woman who spends her days walking among exhibits which chart the progress of black America, from slavery to civil rights and beyond.

Still, for most of her life, Plumber assumed there would be one piece of African-American history she would not live to see. Jule Plumber never expected to be able to vote for a black person for president.

Ms. JULE PLUMBER (Secretary, Black History Museum): Yeah, I never thought that it would happen in my lifetime.

SPIEGEL: And so it was with great anticipation that Plumber sat down to watch Obama's speech on Tuesday night, watch as he bumped fists with his wife Michelle and then took to the podium to make the following statement.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Tonight I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States of America.

(Soundbite of cheers)

SPIEGEL: Almost 24 hours later, Plumber still seems a little dazed by the fact that Obama actually got the nomination.

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

SPIEGEL: She clearly relishes even saying these words. For her this is a watershed moment in America.

Ms. PLUMBER: And 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.

SPIEGEL: Two blocks away, at a blue and white diner, Reese King is stopping for lunch. He's a tall man with muscled arms covered in tattoos. And like Plumber, one of the first things he says is that he never expected to see a black man get a real crack at the presidency.

Mr. REESE KING: No. Not at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SPIEGEL: Also like Plumber, King made a point of watching Tuesday's speech. He says he found the experience profoundly moving.

Mr. KING: They're almost right. They're almost right. Because he - I mean, he's straight up.

SPIEGEL: And does it make you think differently about America? Do you think, like, America isn't as racist as you thought it was?

Mr. KING: Well, yeah. True. It's not as racist.

SPIEGEL: But not everyone at the diner agrees with King.

Mr. DOUGLAS PETERSON: The world's not read for a black president.

SPIEGEL: Kitchen worker Douglas Peterson doesn't think that the nomination is evidence of racial healing. He isn't sure how to explain what's happened already, but he is sure of how all this will end.

Mr. PETERSON: They will kill him, assassinate him. As a matter of fact, I thought they were going to knock him before - during the primaries, for real.

SPIEGEL: A number of people worried out loud in this way, including Robert Widdit(ph), yet another African-American man who fervently believed that a black president was impossible until Obama started winning red states.

Mr. ROBERT WIDDIT: So many people of non-color who voted for him. I was kind of blown away by that.

SPIEGEL: But like Peterson, Widdit doesn't feel like he needs to rethink his assumptions about racism in America.

Mr. WIDDIT: Oh, no. I deal with it every day as a black man.

SPIEGEL: No matter who got the nomination, Widdit says, he will still get looks when he walks into restaurants and stores; he will still bang his head on the glass ceilings that don't seem to apply to the white people in his office. And, he points out, it's not like Obama's got the presidency in the bag.

Mr. WIDDIT: Hey, Florida's been a happening spot for the last three or four elections. You know, who know what will happen, you know.

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

Alix Spiegel, NPR News, Washington.

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