Across the Country, 'It's Like a New Aura'

By Paul Schwartzman and Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 6, 2008

On the morning after, Teddy Andrews knew there was one place he needed to go to commemorate Barack Obama's historic triumph: the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where 40 years ago, before hundreds of thousands of African Americans, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. voiced his soaring dream of racial equality.

Grabbing a co-worker, Andrews, 44, walked from his office near Union Station all the way to one of Washington's most iconic memorials. On the spot where King stood, Andrews lay the front page of a newspaper proclaiming Obama's victory, holding it in place with a black wingtip shoe while he snapped a photo with his phone.

"It's a powerful moment," said Andrews, as a woman leaned over to take a photo of the Obama button she placed next to the newspaper. "To stand where Dr. King stood, to show him what he did for us, not just as an African American but as an American. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have this today."

Across the country yesterday, as the cathartic celebration of Tuesday night gave way to the realization that Obama's victory was indeed no dream, the president-elect's supporters marked the historic moment in quieter but no less joyous ways.

In offices and on street corners, at cafes, laundromats and public squares, friends and strangers hugged and laughed, repeating their favorite Obama refrains and speaking of witnessing something almost beyond words.

Everywhere Obama supporters assembled, it seemed, was a giddy sense that the country had achieved a milestone and therefore anything was possible. His most ardent admirers said they don't need to wait for history to draw its conclusions or even for the senator from Illinois to move his family to the White House. In breathless bursts, they rendered their own verdict: Obama's victory had inspired millions and transformed the country.

"I am 87 years old, and last night when that news came on, I cried like a baby," said Beatrice P. Smith, Miss Bea to her friends, as she sat on a white plastic chair by the radiator in the Community Laundromat in Annapolis.

In Chicago, cabdrivers honked their horns in celebration, and police officers went to work wearing Obama socks. Some downtown businesses gave employees the day off, and tourists flocked to Grant Park, the site of Obama's election night rally.

"I think this will cure the racial divide," said Matthew Nallet, a 31-year-old who runs a music production Web site.

Along 125th Street in Harlem, black America's cultural capital, residents and tourists posed for photographs against a huge canvas painting of Obama that went up on a wall next to the famed Apollo Theater. Next door, the Apollo marquee announced in bold lettering: "Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama."

In the Salon at the tony Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., women talked Obama while having their hair done by celebrity stylist John Darin. "It's like a new aura is going around," he said.

In Scranton, Pa., a hardscrabble coal-mining town that is largely white, working-class and Democratic, some voters were so caught up in the moment that they touted Obama's election as a panacea: a cure for everything, everywhere. They seemed to shrug off the tanking economy and two wars that the new president will inherit.

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