Residents take Obama election to heart

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2008

NATCHEZ — It’s easy to see history in the face of president-elect Barack Obama.

But for some, that history isn’t textbook; it’s heartfelt.

The Rev. Clifton Marvel, vice president of the local branch of the NAACP, never thought he’d see a black president.

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“I never envisioned it happening in my lifetime,” he said.

But it did. And just like that, everything has changed, Marvel said.

Generations of white Americans younger than his own will grow up with a black president. And racism may never be the same.

“It’s definitely going to give them a new attitude and a new perspective on black people as a whole,” he said.

Natchez resident Mamie Mazique, 78, is in much the same boat as Marvel. She’s spent a lifetime working, hoping and praying for equality. But she didn’t expect this.

“I never imaged that a black person would be elected to the office of the President of the United States of America,” she said. “I knew that it should have been possible, but I never did believe it would happen.”

Mazique said this is the goal that the black community has long been waiting for.

“We’ve just fought for this for so long and it’s a blessing,” she said.

Former justice court judge Mary Toles was a leader in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. Since that time she helped form the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture’s museum on Main Street.

“I thought Sen. Obama had not really paid his dues,” she said. “I’m old school, from the civil rights movement and believe you have to work your way up.”

But each doubt, each skepticism and each dream the local black leaders felt could not be attained was swept away as Obama crossed the stage Tuesday evening to give his acceptance speech.

Natchez Alderwoman Joyce-Arceneaux-Mathis said Tuesday’s election makes America appear as a beacon of progress.

“Finally, this sets us completely apart from the rest of the world,” she said.

Indeed, the world will take notice of the cohesion this will cause, Marvel said.

“Globally, I think it will speak to the nations around the world that America is the United States of America and united in the respect that all people that have come to America are standing together,” he said.

Mathis said both white and black Americans voted for Obama.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling to see the country come together across racial lines to support a candidate,” she said.

Mazique also said it is undeniable that a great number of nationalities had to vote for Obama to be elected.

“I believe it was all nationalities that voted him in,” she said. “You could look across the screen on the TV and you saw all kinds of people, it wasn’t just black people voting for him.”

From blurring out stereotypes to eradicating racism, the hope is there, Marvel said.

“(Obama’s election) means realizing a significant portion of ‘I Have A Dream’ by Dr. Martin Luther King that electrified us as a black community in years past, of the hope that one day the African American community would experience this part of the dream and re-energize us in the belief of the American dream,” Marvel said.

He said he hopes that young black citizens will realize that they, too, can excel at anything they want.

Toles said she hopes young blacks will take pride in themselves now and work hard to pursue their dreams, too.

“I think that they’re going to be inspired and say, ‘If he can do it, if I can go to school and prepare myself, I can do it,’” she said.