“Everybody here that voted for John McCain, raise your hand!” said Michael Hardy into the microphone. Nobody raised their hand.
On 145th Street in Upper Harlem, the crowd in the meeting room of the House of Justice (motto: “No Justice, No Peace”) was feeling good.
“It certainly looks like there’s gonna be a new day in the United States of America”, said Hardy, who is the organisation’s general counsel, and lawyer for the black civil rights campaigner, the Rev Al Sharpton. “Uhuh,” and “Yes it does,” the crowd said. It was ten pm, and Obama’s lead was looking unbeatable.
Amongst the crowd was Jenkins Washington, who was born “in the clayhills o’ Georgia” seventy years ago. Back in Georgia, did he ever think he’d see the day when a black man would be President, I asked. “They used to hang black people back where I was,” he said.
“I was scared o’ white people. My brother and I used to walk down the road where they had signs up, ‘Coloureds this way’, “Whites this way’.”
“This is a wonderful time for America, cause the change is coming; it’s on the way,” he said.
Franklin remembered sitting around the fire with his grandparents, singing gospel, and he started to sing, standing out on 145th Street in Harlem. “There’s a bright sign somewhere, oh Lord, don’t you start until you find it, oh Lord,” he sang.
Suddenly, there was cheering inside. Michael Hardy was at the microphone again. Barely audible above the din, he called to the crowd, “I am…” “I am!” they chorused. “A history maker,” he called. “A history maker!” they replied. It was eleven pm, and the networks had just called it for Obama. A woman took the microphone, bent double with emotion. “Lord, we know we’re not perfect, but thank you, Lord,” she said through tears.
The cheering was uncontrolled. “Oh my God!” a woman shouted, in a tone of incomprehension. People hollered. They ran out onto the street, shouting simply, “Obama!”
“We made it, we made it,” somebody was repeating into the microphone.
“I never thought in my lifetime that I would live to see this day. But Barack Obama is a president for everybody,” a woman said.
The room went quiet as John McCain appeared on the television screens. He spoke of “the special pride” that African-Americans must take in the election.
Back in Harlem, the dj played James Brown’s ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud’. “Barack Obama! Hands in the air right now!” he roared into the microphone. “We did it, black people.”
Then music went off and, on the tv, Barack Obama appeared on stage in Chicago.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Obama. “But tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, in this defining moment, change is coming to America.” In Harlem, close around the tv, they cheered, whooped, cried, and thanked Jesus.
Jenkins Washington didn’t want to leave afterwards. As his family waited for him in the car, he turned to me. “I’m thinking of putting my gospel group back together,” he said.