Shirley Chisholm remembered the faces.
About to address the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Chisholm—the African American woman whose attempt to secure her party’s nomination made her the first black and first female candidate in history to do so—stared at the sea of faces before her in the convention audience. “What I noticed most were the older black men and women,” she wrote in her book The Good Fight.
Some were crying, and their faces were so full of joy that they looked in pain. I thought I could read their lives’ experiences in their faces at that instant, and I know what it was they felt. For a moment they really believed it: “We have overcome!”
Today, we elected Barack Obama President of these United States of America and I can’t help feeling the same way. While I didn’t grow up in a time of overt and widespread electoral discrimination, segregation, or violence, I can’t help feeling the same way. I know we have so much work still to do, as a nation and as a globe, but today, I can’t help feeling the same way.
Today I think of all the millions of lives who fought for a fraction of what has just occurred. Today I think of all the lives that were lost in the name of racial hatred and in the struggle for racial justice. Today I think of all their deferred hopes and dreams, the progress they knew could happen but they could not live to enjoy. Today I am amazed at the victory of their words, of their ideas, of their blood.
Barack Obama is the president-elect of the United States. And while I know the struggle for equality, equity, and social justice is far more complicated than this, tonight, I just want to enjoy this achievement. Tonight I want to celebrate the majority of the American electorate who chose to distance us further from a bloody and painful past. Tonight I want to be hopeful and believe.
Tomorrow, the real work begins…