A night of amazing emotions for many

  • Article by: PATRICE RELERFORD and PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2008 - 9:52 AM

At 67 years old, growing up experiencing instances of segregation in Indiana, Shirley Byron never thought she'd see this moment.

Shirley Byron stared for a moment at the big-screen TV in her daughter's Brooklyn Park home.

It was actually happening. Barack Obama had been elected the first black president of the United States.

At 67 years old, growing up experiencing instances of segregation in Indiana, she never thought she'd see this moment.

She couldn't help but shed some tears, hug her grown son and daughter, pace around the room and soak in the reality. It felt like a volcano of joy erupting inside her.

"I'm just filled with so many emotions right now," she said. "I never thought I'd live to see this. Never. America is a great country. We just have to come together."

Her son, Randy Byron, put his teared-up face in his hands. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God," he repeated.

Byron hugged his wife. He went to get their 9-year-old and 5-year-old children from upstairs. He wanted them to witness the historic moment.

"I'm in shock. I'm extremely excited. Extremely proud," he said. "To just finally come to this point."

Monica Byron, Randy's wife, pointed their daughter toward the TV, tears in her eyes. "It's happened," she said.

She said she tells the second-graders she teaches in Richfield that they can be anything they want to be, "knowing that history has shown there are some things you can't be in this country -- now you can."

"It's like the words came alive," she said. "It actually can happen."

For black voters across the Twin Cities, the news capped a day of breathless expectation, suspense and emotion.

Troy Williams found it difficult to even speak as he left his north Minneapolis polling place Tuesday morning.

Williams, 50, said he kept thinking about the significance of what he had just done: voting for a black man for president alongside his 18-year-old daughter.

"I got emotional in there," Williams said. "The prospect of what could be ... it's mind-boggling. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime."

Spurred on by Obama's candidacy, the Williamses and hundreds of other black voters began showing up at north Minneapolis polling places two hours before voting began at 7 a.m.

The energy surrounding the Illinois senator's candidacy continued throughout Election Day as drivers honked when they passed polling places, congratulated first-time voters and encouraged others to tough it out at some polls where wait times lasted 45 minutes to two hours.

Excited voters also described feelings of anxiety, and were cautious about celebrating too early.

Longtime north Minneapolis resident Rosie Lynn said she'd never seen anything like it.

"This is the first time I've ever had to stand in line this long and wait [at this polling place]," Lynn said.

Lynn was there with her granddaughter Constance Williams, 19, who intended to vote for the first time. She said three generations of Lynn women would vote at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center on Tuesday, and all of them thought Obama is the right man for the job regardless of his color.

Still, they couldn't help being excited that with their help a black man might claim the Oval Office for the first time.

Charles Rogers, 23, came to vote for the first time in northeast Minneapolis. "We're on top of the world," he yelled as he lifted his arms and walked out of the Audubon Park polling place.

"This is the only time I actually wanted to vote, was into it," he said, adding that he thought an Obama presidency would help black men see new possibilities.

As 50-year-old Beulah Verdell left her polling place, she paused to reflect on the historic nature of the vote she had just cast for Obama.

"I don't think it's truly hit me yet," she said.

All day, Verdell said, she thought of her father, who passed away years ago, and her childhood in Alabama. Her family wasn't rich, but what she learned from her father -- what she calls her "inheritance" -- was the importance of education and religion.

Her father always told the family to vote, she said, but regretted that he never saw a black man on a major ticket for president.

"He just never thought that, you know, he would see it or I would see it," Verdell said. "I wish he were here. He would just cry."

plouwagie@startribune.com 612-673-7102 prelerford@startribune.com 612-673-4395

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