CHICAGO, November 5 – Even as he stood outside a Baptist church on the south side of Chicago waiting to cast a ballot for Barack Obama Tuesday, Roby Clark still couldn’t quite believe he would be able to vote for a black candidate for president.
It wasn’t so long ago that Clark, 92, was forced to sit at the back of the bus in the segregated southern United States.
He shook his head remembering how even his army uniform was no protection against the racial slurs and harassment.
But he has faith that things have finally, truly, changed.
"I think that we’re gonna get him," Clark said as a sunlight flag flapped in an unseasonably warm breeze, referring to his choice of Obama for president.
"Through God’s blessings, I think we’re gonna get him."
Faton Fall, 40, stood quietly in line, soaking in the moment and listening to Clark’s story. Tears came to her eyes when she was asked how she felt about the chance to vote for Obama.
"It means a lot to me," she told AFP. "I’m overwhelmed. I can’t say more."
The south side of Chicago has seen its fair share of problems over the years.
The predominantly black, working class district has been plagued by crime and violence and many here still remember the days when blacks were not allowed to swim on nearby white beaches.
But it is also a center of black politics and culture and played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.
It was here that Obama came after graduating from Harvard University as a lawyer to work as a community organizer. And here that he stayed after meeting his wife, Michelle, who grew up in the neighborhood.
"It means the world to me to see this. I thought I would never see nothing like this," Darleen Blackwell, 67, said of Obama’s candidacy.
"Our boys will be coming home from the war. There will be more jobs. More (health) insurance and more opportunity and somebody who’s for us."
Precinct captain LeRon Clark has worked hard in past years to overcome voter apathy and get the people living in the neighborhood’s towering apartment blocks to come out on election day.
Things are different this year, he said. People are excited. They’re hopeful. And there was a line around the corner at 6:00 am.
"A president from the neighborhood from the city, a Harvard grad at that," Clark said. "You can’t do any better than this. The weather’s beautiful. Everything happens for a reason. We have everything on our side to have a victory with Obama."
Jack Matthews was laughing and joking with the other people in line. He’s thrilled to see people voting for change in the election, but says the real work will begin when Obama takes office in January, if he defeats Republican rival John McCain.
There are plenty of big issues to deal with, like the war in Iraq, education and health care, he said.
"We need Obama in there and we need everybody to step up and play a big part."