Maisah Henry wept.

As the 33-year-old fragrance store owner sat in her St. Paul home Tuesday night, watching Barack Obama declare himself the Democratic presidential nominee, she said she "found myself crying all night because I was watching something I may never experience again in my lifetime."

Up past his bedtime, Henry's 8-year-old son, Amen, caught a bit of the speech.

"'Is that Barack Obama?'" he asked. "'Yes,' I told him. 'What else do you see?'"

"'He's brown,'" her son replied.

"I told him I wanted him to hold on to that moment for the rest of his life, that he knows what being a black man can lead to in America. This is monumental."

On Wednesday, the day after Obama's triumph was televised worldwide from downtown St. Paul, black Americans across the nation echoed, in their own words, the candidate's declaration that "this is our time."

Whether prominent or obscure, supportive of Obama's politics or not, they were moved by the unprecedented ascent of a man whose skin color, only four or five decades ago, could have put his life or limb in peril if he had simply tried to vote in some parts of America.

One widely noted measure of the change Obama's nomination represents is that he will give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Aug. 28, the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at a pivotal civil rights march in Washington.

King declared that the 1963 gathering had given him faith to return to the then-segregated South and "hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Obama's victory an "extraordinary" moment in the life of the nation, a time when "We the people" is beginning to mean "all of us."

Blacks variously said they were elated, vindicated and proud, even as some said they're not certain the United States is ready to elect a black president. A few voiced vague worries about Obama's safety.

Roger Wilkins, a professor emeritus at George Mason University in Virginia who teaches about U.S. racial history, said that the notion the next president could be black has grown on him gradually. "It is not as if one morning I woke up and turned on the radio and I heard someone say 'black president,' I would drop my teeth," he said.

Wilkins, nephew of the civil rights leader Roy Wilkins, added that he feels "a very deep joy and pride when I listen to the words 'black' and 'president' applied to a walking, breathing person who carries African genes in his body and soul."

Pride crosses party lines

On Wednesday, Obama himself made a rare mention of his place in history as the nation's first black presidential nominee, taking note of the fact that children as young as his daughters can now take for granted the fact of a woman or black American running for president.

Having grown up in segregated Louisiana and crossed picket lines of whites to attend school, Sandra Buckner said Obama's nomination "is something I never thought I'd live to see happen."

Buckner, 49, an elementary school teacher from St. Paul, called Obama's nomination "the best thing that has happened to this country for a long time -- maybe all time. And people may be ready for him because I think a lot are tired with what's been happening so long in Washington."

Peter Bell, chairman of the Metropolitan Council and a prominent black conservative, doesn't support Obama but said the Illinois senator "ran a brilliant campaign that captured the imaginations of quite a few groups of people."

Obama's success has caused Bell "to feel some pride, as most people would whenever someone in your group does well."

Obama's nomination doesn't particularly surprise Bell. And although Obama at times had difficulties attracting white voters during the primaries, Bell doesn't see the candidate's race as an insurmountable hurdle in November. "I tend to think bias in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep," Bell said. "Many people argue, particularly on the left, that racism is so deep-seated and pervasive that it's a huge block to the progress of African-Americans. That'll be hard to argue after this."

Barb Davis White, a Republican who is challenging Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District, agreed race by itself won't derail Obama. "As a person whose mother is white and whose father is black, I can relate to him finding his whereabouts in American culture," she said. "But voters are interested in experience and policy -- not the race of a candidate or any other superficial factors."

'It's cool'

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who preceded Obama in presidential politics more than 20 years ago, called Obama's success "a mountaintop in American history."

"The world has new reason to be optimistic about the possibility and the promise of America," Jackson said in a prepared statement.

Donni Warren, a 35-year-old student from Minneapolis studying to be a midwife, said Obama's success "is a huge deal," but as an uncommitted voter, she remains ambivalent.

"Our political system needs more than someone new in that position," she said. "There have to be more creative solutions. A black president would be great, but it depends who that black president would be. Look at Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell -- how much difference have they made to working people and brown people?"

"It's cool," said Derrick Brooks, 21, a Minneapolis resident who works at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. "I'm proud because I mostly didn't think he'd make it this far. I hope nothing happens to him, but he knew what he was getting into. I'm going to vote for him, but I'm afraid too many people in this country don't want to see a woman in the White House, much less a black man."

The Washington Post and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184