The election of America’s first black president is something Lexie Mangum never expected to see or be a part of, but all that changed when Barack Obama won the nation’s highest office last week.
Mangum, 56, said he is “absolutely ecstatic” about Obama’s victory.
“I didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime,” said Mangum. It was made even more special to be part of it by casting his vote for Obama, Mangum said.
“To me, it meant that the change is finally gonna come,” said Nora Anderson, who works in the registrar’s office at City Hall.
Anderson, who is African American, said Obama’s victory meant that people would try to “set aside their racial bias” and work with the new president.
She was “grateful, surprised and overwhelmed,” Anderson said, that the country would elect an African American as president.
Anderson said she believes in Obama’s slogan, “Yes we can!”
“That’s gonna stick,” said Anderson.
It’s already stuck – as a tagline at the end of Carl Swanson’s email messages.
Swanson, a conservationist with the Pequabuck River Watershed Association and Trout Unlimited, said Obama’s election bodes well for the environment.
“It was pretty historic,” said Swanson, who is white. “I’m excited for a change.”
But Swanson said the biggest impact of Obama’s presidency will be that the world’s perception of America will change, for the better, and “bring our country back to where people looked up to us rather than hated us.”
Mayra Sampson, who works in the comptroller’s office at City Hall, said she experienced “every emotion” as Obama claimed victory.
“I’m thrilled,” Sampson said. “Of course, I cried.”
Sampson, who is Puerto Rican, said Obama’s victory isn’t all about race to her, but she said the election this year was an “eye-opening experience” in Bristol.
“I have never seen racism so open in this town as I did during this election,” said Sampson. She said she and family members heard people openly insult Obama and declare that they would never vote for him because of his skin color. “It’s very hurtful.”
Alfonso Pearson, who has been active in the past with the Bristol NAACP, said Obama’s victory may not make a lot of difference locally.
“It’s good that history was made, but what about a town like Bristol?” Pearson said. “Bristol’s got a long way to go.”
Former City Treasurer Patti Ewen, whose mother was a member of the Penobscot Nation in Maine, was pleased with Obama’s victory.
“I’m overwhelmed with the generosity of this country that they could see beyond color,” said Ewen.
Former city Councilor Chet Reed said the past eight years “has been such a disaster” in so many ways, that people were aching for something new.
“The country was just ready for a change,” Reed said. “And what's the right time for someone like Barack Obama to run? When the country is ready for a change. I don't think it mattered who the Democrats ran.”
Still, Reed said, “I guess you can call it progress” that the country would elect a black president.
“It is a nice thing,” Reed said. “That wouldn't have happened in 1940 or 1960 or 1970 or even 1980. All the events were right and it happened. We have our first African American president.”
Reed said it was “kind of heartwarming” to see the massive crowd in Chicago's Grant Park on Election Night, listening with joy to the president-elect.
Reed said he remembers the disastrous riots in the same park during the 1968 Democratic convention, where students were beaten by Chicago cops. “The change from 1968 to 2008,” Reed said, certainly shows a major difference.
Pearson said that for the sake of his children, things will truly change and that young people will believe they truly can be anything they want to be.
“Obama opened the door for so many of us,” Mangum said. “There’s no ‘We can’t’ anymore. It’s up to all of us as Americans to seek the dream and just go after it, make it happen.”
But Obama didn’t make it on his own, Mangum said, because he had the help of those who went before him.
Many people made “a lot of strides” laying the bricks for someone like Obama to walk on, Mangum said. Obama followed that path laid by others, Mangum said, and when he reached the end, “he was able to stand out on his own and make it happen.”
It wasn’t so long ago that all this seemed an impossible dream.
Mangum, a writer and longtime owner of a South Street barbershop, was raised in an African American family of Southern sharecroppers, he said.
“My parents had to go through the back door,” said Mangum.
Ewen said she saw a parent suffer exclusion early in her lifetime, too.
“As a Native American, my mother did not have voting rights,” Ewen said.
On Election Day, Ewen worked for the city clerk’s office, helping people cast a presidential ballot, which is allowed in Connecticut.
Those are people who aren’t registered, but are allowed to vote in the presidential race only.
“There were hundreds that came through,” said Ewen. “You saw all sizes, shapes, colors.”
One, an 80-year-old man, was voting for the first time in his life, Ewen said.
“He was very proud of himself,” said Ewen. She and others signed up a lot of new voters that day, Ewen said. “It was wonderful.”
Mangum said Obama will take the nation in a new direction.
It’s up to Obama to improve the economy and the nation, Reed said, and he should be judged on his success in that endeavor.
“If he can improve the situation, more power to him,” Reed said. “He's going to have a tough time.”
Obama won’t have any honeymoon period, Swanson predicted, because of the economic crisis and other problems he’ll inherit.
“He’s got a very, very tough road ahead,” said Swanson.
The president-elect “gave us a brand new breath of fresh air,” said Mangum. Americans can do great things, Mangum said, if we put our minds to it.
Anderson said Obama is already off to a good start by picking top-notch advisors.
Obama’s family – his wife and two young daughters – are another asset, Anderson said.
As First Lady, Michelle Obama will bring elegance without being stuffy, according to Anderson.
“They’re down to earth people,” said Anderson. She imagined the Obama daughters having sleepovers on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The little girls will “light up that White House like you wouldn’t believe,” Anderson said.
The most recent Census, eight years ago, found that 2.7 percent of Bristol's 60,062 residents were black, or about 1,600 people.
Another 1.6 percent listed themselves with two or more races, while another 6.8 percent said they were of Asian, Hispanic or Latin descent.
That means a bit less than 90 percent of Bristol in 2000 was white.
Contact Steve Collins at email@example.com