RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
We turn now to this scene in central Texas. On a rural highway sits a small, white house with some cows grazing out back and a wheelchair ramp leading to the front door. Inside that house lives Amanda Jones, 109-years-old and the daughter of a slave. No one in her family, least of all Mrs. Jones, thought she would live long enough to vote for the man who is to become the first black president. NPR's John Burnett reports.
JOHN BURNETT: Amanda Jones is the living link between the time when a black man has been elected president of the United States and the time when black men were owned as property. She wears a pink gown and sits in a worn recliner. Thick glasses magnify her roomy eyes. Those eyes have witnessed two world wars, a Great Depression, the arrival of jazz, television, and antibiotics. Born in 1899, Mrs. Jones has lived through a half-century of institutional segregation and a second half-century of attempts to erase that legacy.
MONTAGNE: The white is over everything, and I never thought the colored would rise up.
BURNETT: The white is over everything, she says. I never thought the colored would rise up and accomplish this. She thinks the election of President Barack Obama is a divine act.
MONTAGNE: And then it's a blessing.
BURNETT: Amanda Jones is a deeply religious woman. On the wall next to pictures of her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren is a framed scripture from Joshua and sheet music of "The Old Rugged Cross."
MONTAGNE: I think God was in charge(ph).
BURNETT: Her father was Emmanuel Alfred Roberts, emancipated in 1865 at the age of 12. He took the name of his last master, a farmer and rancher named Abe Roberts. E.A. Roberts, the freedman, eventually married Moriah Josephine Washington. They farmed on Alum Creek, east of Austin, and had 13 children. Amanda Jones is the sole survivor. She remembers very little of what her father told her about slavery days.
MONTAGNE: When he was a little boy, he herded sheep.
BURNETT: When he was a little boy, she says, he herded the master's sheep and protected them from the mountain lions that then prowled the forests of central Texas. She went on to marry C.L. Jones who farmed and ran a small grocery in Bastrop County. Mrs. Jones worked as a maid before raising 10 children of her own. The first president she voted for was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like all black citizens, she had to pay a poll tax to vote.
MONTAGNE: We would pick cotton and save our money to pay taxes.
BURNETT: The poll tax was finally abolished in Texas for all elections in 1966. The election of President Obama now gives the extended Jones family and millions like it across the country a new standard for their children. Amanda Jones' daughter Ruth is 73.
MONTAGNE: I told my youngest grandson, which is 10 - I said you can be anything you want to be. I said you can even be the president of the United States. He thought that was so funny. He really did. He said, I can be the president. I said, you sure can. But you really have to apply yourself.
BURNETT: The family is planning a large reunion at an Austin hotel when Amanda Jones turns 110 next month, under the nation's first black president-elect. John Burnett, NPR News.
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