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, Delaware, 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 even some Republicans using the word “miracle” to characterise the prospect of a victory by their 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.
Even if the polls do prove accurate and Obama does win, some of his enthusiastic supporters still have concerns about what lies beyond the mountaintop.
“The empire is in decline, the culture is in decay, the democracy is in trouble, financial markets near collapse,” said Princeton professor Cornel West. “It’s almost Biblical. And you can imagine what the black brothers and sisters in the barbershops and beauty salons say: ‘Right when the thing is about to go under, they hand it over to the black man.”