Black voters celebrate historic Obama victory

Matt Little
Longtime civil rights activist Matt Little celebrates Barack Obama's victory at Favors Cafe in Minneapolis. "There are no words to describe this feeling," Little said. "I almost feel like my life is completed."
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Before the final votes were tallied, the mood at the Favor Cafe on Lake Street was festive, yet a little reserved. The multigenerational group of mostly black professionals and political activists were dressed as if they were attending a networking mixer.

They watched the election returns on flat panel screens as they nibbled on chicken wings and fried catfish. And, for most of the night, they spoke with reserved confidence that Obama would likely win, but didn't want to jump the gun.

Josie Johnson, a 77-year-old civil rights pioneer and longtime educator, didn't want to jinx Obama early in the evening. But she reflected upon how things have changed since she was a girl living in Texas, where African Americans had to pay a poll tax before they could vote.

"We have come this far, to the point that what we are trying to do now is watch for the successful election of an African-American man to become President of the United States," Johnson said.

As the night went on, the election returns began to heavily favor Obama. The crowd began to cheer, as state after state turned toward the Democrat. After Ohio went for Obama, the crowd became a bit more certain of what was going to happen.

Historian Mahmoud El-Kati, told the group that Obama is the product of the hard work and the blood shed by the civil rights generation. El-Kati said he was reminded of that by a poster he saw on the wall of a restaurant.

Rose McGee watches as results come in
Obama supporter Rose McGee watches as CNN announces that Barack Obama is the next president of the United States.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"There was a poster with an image of Martin Luther King on one side of the poster and an image of Barack Obama on the other side," El-Kati saud. "Under King's image was, 'He Had a Dream.' And on the other side of the wall Obama's image said, 'He Is The Dream.'"

Shortly after CNN called Virginia for Obama - a state that normally voted Republican - the call came across the television that Obama was the new president.

People hugged each other and cheered. Tears were shed. About 20 people simultaneously clamped their cell phones to their heads and yelled into them. Rose McGee was one of them.

"I got a call from my son," McGee said. "He's in L.A. and he wanted to scream in my ear, and let me scream in his ear. It was fabulous. There are no words to describe this feeling!"

Matt Little was born in the Jim Crow South about 87 years ago. He came to Minnesota in 1948 and, as a leader in the local NAACP, Little led the state's delegation to the March on Washington in 1963.

"I almost feel like my life is completed," Little said. "That I have what I have [wanted] all of my life, and now I see it happen in my lifetime. I never thought I could possibly see this or feel this way. It is terrific."

The announcement of Obama's election to the White House was the moment the group had been waiting for all night. And for some, it was the moment they'd been waiting a lifetime for.

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