Lula Cooper expects the tears to flow if Barack Obama becomes the first black president. But she’s not breaking out the tissues just yet.
“I cried when I marked my ballot for him. We’ve had such an incredible journey to this point,” said the former civil rights activist, her voice quavering. “I think he’s going to win, but I really am very, very cautious.”
Like a Hollywood blockbuster whose conclusion feels assured but still sets the heart racing, the endgame of this election has gripped black America with a powerful mixture of emotions.
Obama’s potential victory represents a previously unimaginable triumph over centuries of racism. But beneath the hope and pride lies fear: of polling inaccuracy, voting chicanery, or the type of injustice and violence that have historically stymied African-American progress.
Cooper, 75, experienced the oppression of the 1950s and ’60s as she was dragged off to jail for protesting segregation in Wilmington, Del., where her husband was DuPont’s first black chemist. Now living in the Southwest, she said she experienced modern politics when her husband lost a recent bid to become their city’s first black mayor after the election was switched to mail-in ballots rather that polling-place voting.
So when it comes to Obama, Cooper is “optimistic and hopeful — but experience plays a big part.”
“With my generation, in the ’60s every leader that we had was killed,” she said. “Then it’s almost like a plate over your heart. Once you’ve been hurt — King, Kennedy, Medgar Evers — you dare not put that much emotion out there again.”
With even some Republicans using the word “miracle” to characterize the prospect of a victory by GOP candidate John McCain, given his lagging poll numbers, the shock of an Obama loss would be almost incalculable for many blacks. So people are protecting themselves.
“I can’t tell you how much fear, but at the same time joy and expectation I have,” said James Lowry, a management consultant from Chicago. “It revolves around every five minutes. I have hope, I read the polls, I get excited, then I say, ‘Anything can happen.'”
Michael Cornwell, a surgeon from Atlanta, checks poll numbers daily online and fully expects Obama to win. Still, “you can’t shake the tension,” he said.
“We’re expecting something to come out, some closing of the polls,” Cornwell said on Thursday. “I see these Republican-driven articles saying the polls are tightening. Are they correct, or are they just a combination of Republicans wanting to make it look good and the media wanting it to be a tight race so more of the population will be engaged or buying copy?”READ