While my ex would never imagine using a word to describe me that implies being overly sentimental, there are times when it fits. Tears sometimes come to my eyes during TV shows (The Wire, or Smash's last episode on Friday Night Lights for example) She would call me a political junkie, so it might not be as surprising to know that there have been events during the Presidential campaign that have put me in a sentimental mood.
There was this story from a medical student in Evansville, Indiana about her experience with early voting.
For me the most moving moment came when the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote. When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn't in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president.
Or this story, about a 109 year old Amanda Jones in Texas who cast her absentee ballot for Obama last week. What's amazing about her story, besides the fact that she 109 years old, is that her father was a slave. This woman, who just voted for an African American for President, is the daughter of a slave. That's unbelievable.
It's almost a cliche to say that America's original sin was slavery. For all of our history we have struggled with either the fact of slavery or the aftermath of slavery. We still have a few people with us who only have to look one branch up their family tree to find either a slave or a slave owner. My parents were born into an America without a Voting Rights Act, and one in which Obama's parents' marriage would have been illegal in some states.
Jones' father herded sheep as a slave until he was 12, according to the family, and once he was freed, he was a farmer who raised cows, hogs and turkeys on land he owned. Her mother was born right after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Joyce Jones said. The family owned more than 100 acres of land in Cedar Creek at one point, she said.
Amanda Jones' father urged her to exercise her right to vote, despite discriminatory practices at the polls and poll taxes meant to keep black and poor people from voting. Those practices were outlawed for federal elections with the 24th Amendment in 1964, but not for state and local races in Texas until 1966.
Amanda Jones says she cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but she doesn't recall which of his four terms that was. When she did vote, she paid a poll tax, her daughters said. That she is able, for the first time, to vote for a black presidential nominee for free fills her with joy, Jones said.
While that might seem like ancient history, and we have made a lot of progress during my parents' lifetime, we are far from moving past our original sin. An Obama presidency will not mean that we have put our racial troubles behind us, but it will be a step in the direction. I hope that it will mean race becomes a topic of conversation for white America.
Obama's race is not the reason I became a supporter (I originally was most intriuged by his approach to foreign policy) but it a significant part of his appeal. Unfortunately, the historic nature of his campaign is not the only thing during this election that brought a tear to my eye.
I heard this afternoon that Obama's grandmother had died late Sunday night. It seems unfair that this woman who spent much of Obama's teen years raising him would not quite live to see tomorrow night, when I'm sure that Obama will wish to hear her voice. I'll quote Andrew Sullivan's reaction to this news.
Obama was so right to make sure he spent time with her before she passed on. But what an emotional blow on election eve for the candidate from Illinois. He has survived this campaign with remarkable emotional maturity and self-control. I just wish this didn't have to add to it. None of his parents will witness tomorrow. But somewhere my faith teaches me: they know already. Maybe Toot couldn't wait for the actual results. Maybe she's now a few steps ahead even of Chuck Todd. May she rest in peace. She did good.
Take a look at this picture of Obama taken as he spoke with a North Carolina crowd about his grandmother this afternoon.