Elation Is Tinged With Incredulity

By Eli Saslow and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 5, 2008

They watched on television as Barack Obama basked in a standing ovation and read off his thank-you list. They listened to him claim the Democratic nomination for president. They sat glued to the news for hours, as if repetition might make the scene more real.

And even still, some of Obama's most ardent supporters went to bed Tuesday night wondering: Could this really have happened?

The final reality of Obama's victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton, predestined for weeks, still struck Obama's supporters -- young and old, white and black, the believers and the skeptics -- with the sudden weight of history.

For some black Americans, the impact of his win reached into the improbable, registering as a shock inconsistent with a lifetime of experience. Adrian Cheeks, 45, from Falls Church, had considered Obama's candidacy a "chance in hell -- snowball." Mildred Taylor, 80, from Los Angeles, was convinced she'd never see a black president in her lifetime.

Reveling in Obama's historic achievement, a California man planned a cemetery visit to share the news with a dead relative. Others taped Obama's picture to their front doors. Many considered the possibility of a black president with a woman for his running mate and marveled at how drastically the world had changed.

"I'm amazed that we've grown up," said Crystal Hill, 31, an African American who lives in Northwest Washington. "We've still got a long way to go, but we're getting there."

For Tamim Rahim, 21, of the Chantilly area, Obama's ability to fight through one of the most bruising nomination battles in history, combined with the historic obstacle of his ethnicity, proved the candidate's mettle.

"Quite honestly, when Obama first started, I didn't think he was going to go too far," said Rahim, who is of Afghan descent. "I know 100 years ago no one would have thought an African American would get this. . . . He went through a lot of difficult obstacles. . . . I think he's made his point. In my mind, he's won his battles."

But for some, looking ahead to Obama's remaining battle against John McCain, skepticism still lurked: Could this really happen again?

"It does say something about how far the country has come along," said Cheeks, an information-technology support technician. "Now comes the real test. You still have a core group of Americans who will not vote for him because of the color of his skin."

Many of Obama's younger supporters chose a more hopeful outlook. In downtown Washington, Becky Ogunwo, 20, handed out brochures about environmental issues and gushed, "We're a much more diverse country in our thinking now." Donte Frazier, a 32-year-old local cook, talked about "a moment of hope." Keisha Brown, 21, from Chicago, whose mother has a nightgown with a picture of Obama on it, said, "Everything will be different now."

To the Rev. Steve Merki, who is white, Obama's victory was more than just a racial milestone. "I think he certainly represents a new generation and new ideas," said Merki, 50, of La Plata.

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