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Watching Obama, Watching History

By admin Published: August 28, 2008

(Chicago Tribune photo)

I haven't watched much of the Democratic convention. I had work commitments a couple of nights, for one thing. But I wanted to see Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Not because of how I'm voting, but because this was history.

You could argue that history was made when the convention votes gave him the nomination. But I think we marked that moment more clearly when he stood on that stage and spoke as a major-party nominee for president -- when we saw what the result of that convention vote made flesh.

So I tuned in a few minutes before he began his talk. And when he walked onstage, before he had said a word, I was profoundly, deeply, powerfully moved.

Again, this is not about whom I am voting for. I'm not even going to write about the speech itself here. This is about a change that has come in my lifetime, which began when segregation was still the practice and the law in large parts of this country. When raw, disparaging language about African-Americans could still be heard in ordinary, daily discourse. When an African-American voting was an impossibility in many places, let alone a person of color being one of the last two serious contenders for the highest office in the land.

Yes, racial matters are still hotly debated in America. Yes, there are vast cultural divides that may never be bridged. Yes, getting a nomination is not the same as getting elected. But it was an extraordinary moment.

I don't know if tonight's magnitude is understandable to youngsters who did not grow up in a world where dogs and fire hoses were set loose on people seeking a lot less than becoming president, where asking to vote or sitting at a lunch counter could get you killed. But I remember those days. And I'll remember this night.

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