‘I never would have dreamed’

Published 8:54 pm Friday, November 7, 2008

FRANKLIN—When President-elect Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech Tuesday night, some of Franklin’s oldest African-Americans couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

“It never happened in my daddy’s days, and I was surprised that it happened in mine,” said Obediah “OG” Baker, 97, one of several seniors at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Franklin on Friday who reflected on the historical significance of America’s first black president.

Ninety-six-year-old Ben Holland said he didn’t know what to think.
“I was so nervous for him. Before now, I never would have dreamed anything like this would happen in my lifetime and didn’t really have it on my mind at all.”

Holland and Baker grew up in a time when segregation was the norm and voting rights for blacks were not equal.

“We never really had much problems around here,” Holland said. “It was just that everyone kept to their own — that was until someone was in trouble. Then, whites would help blacks and blacks would help whites. That’s just the way it was.”

Baker remembers the first time he ever voted.

“I felt kind of funny. I remember I was 21 when we were first allowed to vote. I had to pay a poll tax of one dollar, which was a lot of money. But it was something that was important.

“I don’t remember who I voted for, but I know it was in 1942. I haven’t missed one since. It’s been a lot of changes since those days, like whites and blacks can now drink out of the same water fountain. They go to school together now too. But the best change happened on Tuesday.”

Unlike her contemporaries, 93-year-old Janie Ward does remember her first presidential candidate.

“I voted for Roosevelt. That was right after the women were given the vote. I even named my son after him.”

As one who used to listen to the “old folks” tell stories of what it was like to be in slavery, Ward is so glad the day has come when a black man has been elected president.

“I knew this would happen. God said the bottom rail shall come to the top! That is just what has happened this week! I always tell my grandchildren you can do anything you put your mind to, and this has proved that you can.”

Other African-Americans who were coming of age during the civil rights era were also positive about the results.

Ray Gallop said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision had become real.

“Black people now believe that they could even be president if they prepare themselves well.”

Nathan Jones, 45, said it’s not just about African-Americans.

“It’s not that he’s a black man. The relationship among all people is changing. We need to find a way to love each other.”

Virginia Murphy is hopeful that Franklin will see some positive results after this election.

“People from all nationalities, ages, races and cultures voted to make Barack Obama the president. It’s not about black America or white America; it’s about all of America. Our children will be better for it.”