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November 6, 2008

History Provides Clues to Meaning of Obama Victory and Challenges

How does the election of Barack Obama fit into American History?

This panel of historians connects Barack Obama’s victory to important points in history, including slavery, the intents of the Founding Fathers, the Civil War and Reconstruction.

It also ties the election to past presidents and pivotal political moments, including the excitement of Andrew Jackson’s inauguration, Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, Huey Long, John F. Kennedy, the initial high hopes surrounding Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton’s rocky first year.

The beginning of the report shows Americans around the country giving their views on the event and how President Obama will have to manage their expectations.


“It was said that it could never be done, it would never happen. It was a long road. There was a phrase someone said, ‘Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Obama could run.’ And run he did, and win he did. And that’s — oh, man, it’s so overwhelming.” – D’Nesstah Fields

“I’m a registered Republican, but I was really impressed with the level of hope and excitement within the community, the national community, and the world, in terms of the outcome. It’s just an incredible speech, an incredible leader. I just — I hope he can live up to it.” – Paul Binsfeld

“As far as the way our country will be run, actions speak louder than words. And Obama is a great communicator, and I hope he’s not just another actor.” – Sarah Thornholm

“I can’t get over the jubilation of America as a whole over this election. The fact that he won in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, it’s just — it’s so enlightening.” – Dennis Fowler

“It’s an incredible moment in the history of this country, one of the more important moments we have seen ever. And that is because this election has resolved a moral contradiction [about race] that runs through the interstices of our history from its very founding.” Ellen Fitzpatrick, University of New Hampshire

“During the Reconstruction era, for instance, we had the first generation of black elected officials, and then that time ended because of Jim Crow segregation. The civil rights movement became a second Reconstruction, so to speak. And now, 40 years later, I think many African-Americans are thinking of this as a potential third Reconstruction. But white Americans and Latinos have joined them, as well, so this really speaks to the potential, in terms of democratic progression for the nation.” – Peniel Joseph, Brandeis University

“If 50 years from now, the most important thing about Barack Obama was his race, that would give me real pause, and it would suggest that his presidency, which ultimately is going to be about other things than race, was less than successful.”

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