'The beginning of a new era in America'

 

President Barack Obama's re-election — in a ferocious campaign dotted by charges of racial anger and minority-voter suppression — has provided what many blacks say will surely deepen his legacy: irrefutable evidence that his presidency is hardly a historical fluke as he has now won two national campaigns with overwhelming white support.

Obama, the nation's first black president, was already soaked in history, a figure seen in the aftermath of his 2008 victory as the culmination of a decades-long civil rights crusade that suffered the assassination of beloved figures who fought and marched for the right to vote and freely pursue the American dream.

But Obama's first term as president also saw him pelted with racially charged denunciations — some from politicians — that reopened festering wounds and even fears in the African American community for his safety. At times it felt as if the W.E.B. Du Bois prophecy — the problem of the 20th century would be the color line, he famously opined — had leapt right into the 21st century.

"In many ways," said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, "Obama's reelection can be seen as resilience on the part of the African American community."

But Bunch admitted that he felt, as did many blacks in the waning weeks of the campaign, that Obama — despite accomplishments in the war on terrorism, a strengthening economy and passage of a universal-health-care law — had been mercilessly castigated.

"You want to hope it's a smaller minority with that real racial hatred," he said. "You see the vitriolic comments, and you realize the first election of Obama didn't change the pain and hatred. In some ways that election magnified some of it."

He added: "It is not a post-racial world, but a world that would make us believe in the possibility of bringing people together."

Throughout the important swing state of Ohio, black ministers had rallied their flocks Sunday from pulpits, linking the president's name with biblical figures who had fought unflinchingly against long, hard odds. Then those ministers led their flocks to waiting buses, which took them to early-voting sites.

Mayor Michael Coleman, of Columbus, Ohio — one of the first big-city mayors to support Obama's daring 2008 campaign — said the re-election was crucial for the psyche of black America. "I think, in some ways, it was more important than the first election," he said. "There may be some in the country who might have said the first race he won was because of timing — that Obama was in the right place and the country was in such a bad place after Bush. So if he had lost, some would just say the first time was a mirage."

Coleman, echoing the sentiments of many blacks, said he was stung by the racially tinged attacks against the president during the campaign. On the eve of the election, Coleman presided over a voter rally at the King Arts Complex in Columbus. "Someone there said, 'I am tired of them disrespecting my president!' The roof almost came down."

Coleman — the first black elected mayor in the Ohio capital — also sensed a new start for the nation with the Obama win. "I think this represents the beginning of a new era in America," he said. "It will be focused on merit, truth-telling and having a moral center. All those were things that Mitt Romney never quite got."

At Obama's inauguration, Elizabeth Alexander recited the poem "Praise Song for the Day," which she had written especially for the occasion. She was keenly aware of the tenseness of the presidential campaign. "In a funny way, this election is even more powerful than the first one," said Alexander, chairman of the Department of African American Studies at Yale University. "It proves again that the country cannot only elect a black man — but re-elect the best person for the job."

Alexander said she thinks that a second Obama term will provide the president with more flexibility. "We will all be wondering: Will the obstruction he faced be different?"

Obama's victory meant a great deal to veterans of the civil rights movement. "I am completely exhilarated," said Margaret Burnham, a law professor at Northeastern University. "This victory gives us an opportunity to fulfill the promises of democracy all across the country. It will be a more inclusive country. We have a president who has made it clear he's on the side of working people."

Saying she remembers the long hot days of working for civil rights in Mississippi, Burnham said the Obama victory was special, as it was in 2008.

"People saw through all the money the Republicans spent," she said. "It was a party that didn't sound like America. This is such a compelling and dramatic moment for people all over."

There was jubilation on the streets of Washington with Obama's re-election. Janice Brown, 30, a staffing consultant who lives in Suitland, Md., stood in a corner of Busboys and Poets restaurant, excited and relieved. "It's awesome for America. Not only is he a great leader, but he is inspiring. His impact is more than on politics — it's on the social fabric."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent