By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
When history landed, it was with car horns, tears and echoes from historic corners of the city.
In a heavy drizzle shortly after midnight, several thousand people filled a barricaded segment of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets in front of the White House, dancing and chanting "O-ba-ma!" and "Whose house? Obama's house!"
At 14th and U streets NW, hundreds of Sen. Barack Obama's supporters chanted, "Yes, we can!" People danced on bus shelters. Strangers hugged.
"Hope! Change!" Rashod Winn, 19, shouted as he danced through the crowd, his arms raised above his head in triumph.
Greg Rhett, 50, a consultant who lives in the District's Ward 7, walked out of the Madison Hotel ballroom pumping his fist as tears welled. His wife, Candace, 43, was behind him, jumping in jubilation and screaming at the top of her lungs, "President Obama!"
Rhett said he had memories of growing up under Jim Crow segregation in Charlotte. "Now the healing begins. Now I can tell my 4-year-old you really can be whatever you want to be," he said. "We're going to get it right this time."
It was an election night that ended an extraordinary day in the Washington region, one charged with deep emotion and a vivid sense of history. Older African Americans wiped away tears as they cast ballots, overwhelmed by the reality that in their lifetime a man of color was at the threshold of the presidency. Some went to the polls with icons linking them to loved ones: a poll-tax receipt, photos of long-dead relatives. Many brought their children to bear witness.
For Sen. John McCain's backers, the evening was a more sobering affair. In a half-filled room at Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Republicans watching Fox News took the returns with stoicism and perspective.
"What do I think? The sun will come up tomorrow," GOP volunteer Linda Schmidt said. "I hope there will be a level of coming together. It's a challenging time for all of us."
There was also bitterness. "What language do they speak in Kenya? Maybe I should get a book," said Ed Sellman of Falls Church. "I'd sure like to see his birth certificate."
"I guess there're not too many plumbers in Ohio after all," said Robert W. Farquhar of Burke. With McCain's prospects ebbing, Republicans in Fairfax County turned their hopes to keeping Democrats from winning a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats in the Senate. "No 60 votes!" Del. David B. Albo said. "Then you know you're reaching low for a reason to party."
But the emotional center of gravity last night was with Obama supporters.
In numerous neighborhoods across the District, an outpouring of celebration included guns being fired into the air, but police said there were no injuries. Police also closed off U Street between 13th and 15th streets to contain the celebration.
In the hours between the closing of the polls and the projection of Obama's victory, residents sat vigil in living rooms, bars, church basements and hotel ballrooms.
Clubs and cafes on U Street were jammed with revelers, erupting at each scrap of news about states awarded to Obama. At Busboys & Poets on 14th Street, where a racially mixed crowd stretched down the block, there wasn't a McCain supporter in sight.
"I never thought I would live to see this day," said Audrey Ross, 55, of Clinton.
The entire crowd at Reggiano's in Landover rose and applauded when CNN gave Ohio to Obama. "This is over. The rout is on," said Orland Johnson of Bowie, a member of Obama's national finance committee.
About 100 members of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia began their CNN vigil with a prayer. Many cried and clapped, shouting "Hallelujah!" and "Thank you, Jesus!" when early returns showed Obama ahead. Valerie Morrison, 59, of Landover, Juanita Perry, 74, of Temple Hills and Mary Satcher, 71, of Southeast Washington call themselves the "Obama Mommas."
"This is the day Dr. King talked about," Satcher said. "I'm just glad I'm still here to witness it."
As the polls closed in the District, a small crowd of Democrats gathered in an anteroom at the Madison Hotel, where Denise Wright, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member and a D.C. schools psychologist, grabbed the TV remote control, making the volume louder over the din. She seemed barely able to breathe watching while McCain showed early strength.
"Now it's okay to exhale a little," she said as Obama pulled ahead. "I will still stay up tonight until they declare him the president of the United States." In the main room, dozens cheered and screamed, "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!" as news of Obama's projected win in Pennsylvania was broadcast.
Grace Brune, 11, stood with her parents, Robert Brune and Janine Colmoletti, who decided to bring her to the Lincoln Memorial to capture the significance of the night.
"We were watching TV last night. Grace saw an Obama sign and said, 'Look -- it says, "Hope," ' and that's how we feel," Colmoletti said. Just then, someone shouted that Obama had won Pennsylvania. Colmoletti, holding a mini TV, looked at the screen and the states that had been counted.
Brune said: "I think the healing between races will leap forward tremendously. In psychology, they call it a paradigm shift."
The family stood near the marble columns waiting and watching the television for updates. Robert Brune looked out over the Reflecting Pool. "It stopped raining," he said. "The sky has parted for Obama."
In the Arlington County community of Nauck, founded in 1844 by former slaves, yesterday dawned as a day of wonder. The line to vote at Drew Model Elementary School started shortly after 3 a.m. and ran through the parking lot and into the street.
"There were some older folks waiting in line who'd never voted before in their lives," said John Lett, Nauck precinct captain for the Arlington Democratic Party.