Black voters saw ballots as a part of history
Common refrain: 'I never thought I'd see this day'
From left, Rev. Dr. Susan Spears of Baltimore, William Fisher of Baltimore, Rev. Marian Marseille of Catonsville and Patricia Edmondson-Lee of Baltimore pray at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore during an election viewing party. (Baltimore Sun photo by Chiaki Kawajiri / November 4, 2008)
And later, near midnight, when Obama appeared on screen, the crowd of more than 200 stood and cheered. Some clasped their hands, as if in prayer; others waved and chanted "Obama, Obama," or took photos of the television screen.
Denise Mattei wiped away tears. "I just can't stop crying," said Mattei, who had a half-dozen Obama buttons pinned to her clothes. "I'm so blessed to live through this period in history."
All day, black voters determined to make history streamed to the polls in Maryland, in what experts estimated as a record turnout. They came in groups, sometimes generations deep - seniors, teens and families with children in tow. Some were die-hard Democrats, others were first-timers who had shed their disillusionment with the political process.
From precinct to precinct, there was a common refrain:
"I never thought I'd see this day."
For some, casting a ballot for Barack Obama was not only about electing a black man to the nation's highest office. It was also the fulfillment of a dream rooted firmly in the African-American experience.
Eunice Frazier, 75, moved slowly to the voting booth with the assistance of a walker and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, at Oaklands Elementary School in Prince George's County. Frazier said she voted for Obama with Samantha guiding her through the touch-screen system.
"It means we've come a long, long, long way," said Frazier, a retired elementary school administrator. "In my lifetime, I have seen so much. We've come up from slavery, school integration and Martin Luther King Jr."
"This vote is the answer to the prayers of slaves who died on the middle passage," said Bethel AME's pastor, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III. "It's about a new era in our struggle. ... We need to take responsibility for our future."
With raucous chants of "Yes, we did," hundreds of Democrats celebrated Obama's victory at an election-night party in downtown Baltimore. Among them were the state's highest-ranking black politicians, eager to celebrate.
"My mother is smiling over me right now. My ancestors are saying they struggled to see this day," Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon told the crowd before she was drowned out by cheers. In an interview, Dixon said Obama's appeal was spiritual.
"It's not about the fact that he's black. When you feel the spirit of God working through people, it's different than a man working on his own. I could see that spirit. It was not just a matter of black and white."
"People will be talking about this election for 1,000 years," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. "This election in and of itself is the audacity of hope."
History and excitement mixed with regret for Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore's City Council president. She wished her father, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings, was by her side to witness Obama's win.
"On a day like this, you long to share this moment in history with loved ones you know would have cherished it," she said.
The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore said Obama's triumph resonates with the hip-hop generation, whose major role models have been athletes and entertainers - until now.
Earlier, as projections flashed across the television screen at Bethel AME indicating an Obama lead in Florida, a crowd of several hundred parishioners roared with excitement.
A cautiously optimistic Rebecca Tinch, of Catonsville, withheld her applause.