2008: Throwing Prejudice Aside: It Has Been America's Challenge to Overcome Its Long, Shameful History of Racism
Johnson, Haynes, American Heritage
SHORTLY BEFORE 9:30 P.M. on the night of November 4, 2008, television voter projections "called" the kingmaker state of Ohio for Barack Obama, virtually assuring his election as the 44th president of the United States. But not for another hour and a half, until the polls closed on the West Coast, was he declared the winner, news that set off countrywide celebrations. People poured out of their homes into the streets and parks. Many wept at a profound sense of what this moment meant to them and their nation: a sense of something historically transforming that transcended political affiliation and ideological conflict, geography, and voter age. On the roster of decisive moments in U.S. history, the election of America's first African American president now ranks as the grand finale.
Obama's election did not signal an end to racial prejudice and discrimination. Nor did it mean that he will become one of America's great presidents; at this writing, his record of achievement is far too slim, the issues of the day too contentious, to determine his ultimate ranking. That record awaits the judgment of history. But his election did signal a definitive answer to the great question that has plagued America since its founding: whether Americans could put aside their prejudice and choose a black person as their leader.
Since 1619, when a battered Dutch privateer beat around Cape Henry, tacked slowly up the James River, and dropped anchor off Jamestown to deposit the first African American slaves on the continent, race relations have affected the character of the United States more than any other factor, leaving an indelible stain on American democracy. Black slaves laid the cornerstones for the White House and the Capitol, were sold like cattle in a huge slave market that stood on the site where the National Archives now houses the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and became the source of bloodshed, civil war, discord, and discrimination that plagued the nation throughout its history, dishonoring its professed democratic principles of equality. It has thus been America's challenge to demonstrate it can overcome the long, shameful history of racism. That was the final lesson of the 2008 election, by far the most extraordinary and significant for its historical stakes that I have covered. …