"I Think I Know Now What it Felt Like When We Were Emancipated”
Brooklyn African-Americans from all walks of life jubilate
Even before the Big Apple polls had closed, Brooklyn’s African-American communities were jubilating.
Renee and Ronda Mayo embraced patrons of Two Steps Down, the restaurant that they own in the black upper middle class enclave of Fort Greene.
Some 80 people had packed into the eatery to watch Barack Obama’s victory speech. They pounded their hearts and shot their arms into the air as battleground states like Pennsylvania were called.
“I walked in and I started screaming,” said City Councilwoman Letitia James, who had spent the day at polling places passing out cookies, in a bid to encourage high voter turnout.
James was also there. She pointed out that this was one of the first African-American restaurants in the neighborhood. “It’s just appropriate that they hold this event tonight.”
As the results rolled in, Byron McCray, 24, who works at the Harlem School of the Arts, said: “We’re getting closer to New York and, more importantly, Ohio.” “After that, it’s a wrap!”
Earlier in the evening, many enthusiastic Obama supporters remained wary, not wanting to get too giddy before the outcome was clear.
“I’ll feel better when it’s real. It’s like this, how do you feel about the $1,000 you have in monopoly money?” laughed Saundra Hampton, 43. “But I’ll tell you, I think I know now what it felt like when we were emancipated.”
For Emerson Atkins, 52, a real estate broker, his children and grandchildren can have hope.
“Not only is Barack giving my kids and grandkids a chance to wake up, look at me, and say ‘someday, I could be president,’ but he has mobilized all Americans. I don’t care what age, what color, what nationality … we’re fired up to take control back.”
A few miles away on the site of the former Ebbets Field — where another African-American broke a color barrier 61 years ago — Brenda Payne and Maggie Ray marveled at the heavy local turnout.
It was here that baseball star Jackie Robinson became the first black player to break into the major leagues, by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
The stadium where they played is long gone. Payne and Ray sat with friends in the Ebbets Field Apartments, a public housing complex built on the site.
On a night when the highest glass ceiling had been shattered, Payne, 59, commented on the spike in turnout.
“We had only 37 people vote at my table in 2004,” said Payne, who four years ago worked the polls at the Jackie Robinson School next door.
Margie Ray, 54, who had been working at a polling station all day, put her hands on her cheek, and looked at Payne, shocked. “I have never seen this many people voting in this neighborhood,” she said. “There were thousands more people voting this year.”
Ray said that many people in the neighborhood talk badly about the local youth, but that the young people at Ebbets Field had waited up to three hours to vote, enduring machine malfunctions and a personnel shortage that caused some organizational problems.
In nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant, some 20 young members of a church group gathered at Bradley Valentin’s apartment. They formed a half circle around the television the news flashed across the screen that Obama had clinched the presidency.
“We didn’t live through Martin Luther King,” said Valentin, 31. “We could vote. We weren’t in jail. What about our great grandparents that aren’t here to see this? We have a president that is black. But he isn’t just black, he’s qualified.”