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Black Americans awed by Obama’s triumph

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Emotional African-American leaders and activists said Sen. Barack Obama’s speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night represented a historic milestone in America’s evolution into the colorblind society foretold exactly 45 years before by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“It doesn’t matter what party you are. You can be Republican. You can be Democrat. You can be independent,” said Johnnie Turner, president of the Memphis, Tenn., chapter of the NAACP. “But the significance of this day is just indescribable. It’s like Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon.”

Obama was making his historic address 45 years to the day after King galvanized the civil rights movement with his “I Have a Dream” speech before thousands on the National Mall in Washington.

Harold Carter, pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore, was one of King’s assistants on that day in 1963. He said King would be gratified but not surprised by the nomination of the first African-American ever to be put forth for president by a major political party.

“If he were here, he would say it’s not an accident,” Carter said. “He would say it’s a completion of a providential curve.”

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’
For Prince Jackson Jr., head of the Savannah, Ga., chapter of the NAACP, the idea of a Barack Obama once seemed impossible.

“In the Catholic school, I had all-white teachers, and the sisters would tell us that you could be president, and we would go in the hall and laugh,” said Jackson, 80.

But “we can now say to each other that African-Americans can do anything and there are no excuses,” Jackson said. “There are still obstacles, but there is light at the end of the tunnel now.”

John Leahr of Cincinnati, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, also “never thought it would happen.”

But now, he said, “in my belly, I begin to think America has grown. We’re becoming the nation we always dreamed. At least we’re on the road.”

Richard Irvin, 67, of Rochester, N.Y., choked up as he remembered the day whites stoned his car, yelling: “There’s one! There’s one! Let’s get him!”

“To see Barack Obama — I’m proud to be an American,” Irvin said.

Still more to do
For Carter, of the Baltimore church, Obama’s nomination “represents a new wave of the dream in which we are very proud — extremely proud.” But he cautioned that “it’s still a dream because reality has to be the substance of the dream, the stuff that makes the dream real.”

“There is a moment in which things have to happen. There is a window of opportunity,” Carter said. “He has seized that moment. There are forces that have been at work, that have brought him to where he is.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever be president or not — that remains to be seen. I do know he wouldn’t be where he is if certain forces had not been at work to bring him to where he is.”