Tonight Jim and I watched the election returns at a neighbor's house, among friends. When I returned home there was a message from my youngest son, Ben. He had called early, before the election results were known. I called him back to rejoice with him in the election of this country's first African-American President.
Ben's words to me were comforting and poignant. He said that he thought of me and how important this moment must be to me, a woman who had lived through the horrors of a segregated South, replete with Jim Crow laws and blatant discrimination. How thoroughly this child of mine understands me! His insight and empathy are humbling, and his appreciation of the sea-change that has occurred during my lifetime is astounding to me.
I remember vividly the signs that designated water fountains in Tampa, Florida as "White Only," and "Colored Only." I remember the all white neighborhoods. I remember the feeling when my high school was integrated with two young African-American boys who stood out in the sea of white faces. I can only imagine how frightening that must have been for them.
I remember my mother's fear that we would be targeted as "nigger lovers" because we dared to champion the cause of desegregation. This was not a frivolous concern. We were a household of three white women - a divorced woman with two teenaged daughters. She feared for our safety.
I have heard the jokes, the explicitly racist remarks, the hate-filled rhetoric. I have known the people, I have been related to the people, who wore sheets and hoods and were a frightening presence in the communities in which I lived. I have seen the signs that said, "Nigger, if the sun rises on your black head in this town, don't let the sun set on it." I have seen eyes filled with fear and anger and submission.
Tonight I have wept tears of joy and tears of great release. Tonight I have witnessed something I never thought I would live to see. Tonight I have wept and laughed as an African-American man was elected President of these United States. Tonight, I, the great-granddaughter of slave owners, have rejoiced as Barack Obama stood in front of a crowd of Americans, men and women of color alongside men and women who are white. As sons and daughters of men and women who, even as recently as a generation ago, were not considered human; men and women who are the grandsons and granddaughters of people whose servitude to this nation was not of their choosing; men and women whose skin color has labeled them before their mouths can even speak in their defense; as they wept openly, laughed openly, rejoiced openly - for now, in this Year of Our Lord 2008, they have been redeemed and released.
I am so proud of this country. I am so proud of my fellow Americans. I am so proud of our new President. May God hold him safely in His care. May he stay true to his promises and his vision. May our trust in him be fully realized, and may God bless him and this Nation.
I am so grateful to have lived to see this day.