Daring to Believe in Obama

From the New York Times

How Mr. Obama’s early triumph will play out in the presidential contest remains to be seen, and his support among blacks is hardly monolithic.

But in dozens of interviews on Friday from suburbs of Houston to towns outside Chicago and rural byways near Birmingham, Ala., African-Americans voiced pride and amazement over his victory on Thursday and the message it sent, even if they were not planning to vote for him or were skeptical that he could win in November.

“My goodness, has it ever happened before, a black man, in our life, in our country?” asked Edith Lambert, 60, a graduate student in theology who was having lunch at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston.

“It makes me feel proud that at a time when so many things are going wrong in the world that people can rise above past errors,” added Ms. Lambert, who said she had not decided whom to vote for. “It shows that people aren’t thinking small. They’re thinking large, outside the box.”

Other black presidential candidates, like Shirley A. Chisholm and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have excited voters in the past. Mr. Jackson won primaries in 1984 and 1988.

Over and over, blacks said Mr. Obama’s achievement in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white state, made him seem a viable crossover candidate, a fresh face with the first real shot at capturing a major party nomination.

“People across America, even in Iowa of all places, can look across the color line and see the person,” said Mr. Brown, 35, who was working at the reception desk at DK’s Hair Design near Ladera Heights, a wealthy Los Angeles suburb.

Describing himself as a “huge, huge supporter,” of Mr. Obama, Mr. Brown added: “So many times, our young people only have sports stars or musicians to look up to. But now, when we tell them to go to school, to aim high in life, they have a face to put with the ambition.”

Mildred Kerr, 68, a Republican who took her granddaughter to the salon for a trim and added that she did not plan to vote for Mr. Obama, said she was nonetheless happy that he had won, because he “can now have the encouragement to go on and pursue a victory.”

George F. Knox, 64, a lawyer and civic leader in Miami who supports Mr. Obama’s candidacy, made a similar point.

“The notion is mind-boggling,” Mr. Knox said. “When a virtual mandate to continue comes out of a place like Iowa, with only a 2 percent black population, it’s very important.”

Several blacks said Mr. Obama’s victory with a campaign not based on race could herald the emergence of a new political calculus.

“I think he’s already made a significant change in the mindset of people,” said Mike Duncan, 55, an Amtrak manager in Abingdon, Md. “Across the board, I’m glad to see that whites and blacks are beginning to understand that blacks can represent them and also be successful at it.”

Shannon Brown, 17, a high school senior on the South Side of Chicago, said she was thrilled that she would be eligible to vote by Election Day.

“I’ve actually seen him around the neighborhood and had conversations with him,” Ms. Brown said, calling Mr. Obama’s candidacy “history in the making” and “a wonderful experience for us as a people.”

She added, “It’s something I will be able to tell my kids when I grow up, that I voted for the first black president.”

Several supporters of Mr. Obama said they liked him for reasons other than race, including what they saw as his interest in stemming injustice and his projection of sincerity.

“I identify just because everything they ask, he is straightforward,” said Charlette Fleming, 26, an insurance agent who was buying lunch at a mall in The Woodlands, a suburb 30 miles north of Houston. “They put him on the spot because he did marijuana. I’ve never done drugs before. But he was: ‘O.K., I did it. I’m not going to deny that I did it.’ He’s not trying to hide anything he’s done. He’s out in the open.”

Some voters said Mr. Obama’s heritage as the son of a white mother and an African father meant that he was not exactly black, but added that it allowed him to appeal to more people.

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