Bursting with pride on a Harlem night like no other
Thursday 06 November 2008
It didn't matter that Cab Calloway was no longer around to make the music, nor Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, or that Sugar Ray Robinson was not to be seen waving from his pink Cadillac after another beautiful performance downtown in Madison Square Garden.
Harlem, every tear-stained face announced, had never known such a night, even the very elderly who remembered all of its swaggering and defiant pomp agreed.
There had never been such joy and benevolence, never such dancing and hugging and crying along the sidewalks and spilling into 125th Street but when Barack Obama began to speak of a new America, and a new world, the only additional sound was that of the helicopters wheeling in the midnight sky.
When Mr Obama finished there was a great sigh and then still another roar, the loudest yet, from the thousands who thronged around the State Office building named for Adam Clayton Powell Jr, the politician who had represented these streets so controversially in those days of anger when Harlem could never have imagined that, for one night at least, it would feel it was at the very heart of not only America but the world.
In the small hours of yesterday it was an extraordinary welcoming heart. A young white couple shared their bottle of Bollinger champagne with an ageing black man, who murmured amid the tumult, "Oh Lord, is this really happening?"
A mountainous bouncer waved you into PJ's Bar and Lounge on 133rd street with the greeting: "Come in, bro, and have a drink."
There, hoisting a vividly coloured cocktail, was a 54-year-old mother from the Bronx. Jamie Walker spoke of a long and exultant day which started at 5am outside the booth of Brooklyn's 65th voting district. "I told my daughter, 'Come on girl, this is a day you're always going to remember.'
"I thought there would be a long line-up, but we were first and it was the most beautiful morning. I thought it would be cold and I took some hot chocolate to hand around but it wasn't necessary. They gave me a ticket for when the voting office opened. It was number one and I'll never lose that piece of paper.
"The pride I feel is not just that America has its first black president but in the kind of man he is. Politics is politics, but this is a man with grace and style and I believe with all my heart that he is a very good man."
Cleveland Thornhill, 96, said: "It's a new day, a new age – and one I never thought I would ever see." Nowhere was his wonderment more intense than in the early morning streets in this place where Billie Holiday once sang so hauntingly.
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