Harold Dean Trulear: A Spirit of Revivial

I watched her run circles around the gym, seemingly oblivious to the history in which her mother involved her. Her African braids flowed in the musty air lingering from countless middle school physical education classes. Her arms stretched wide as if she understood what it meant to soar — soar as the man that five hundred people stood in queue to support on a dismal day in a black working class suburb of Philadelphia.

Only the weather was dismal. The mood was jubilant, fervent, literally transcendent. Black people stood in line without complaint and with hope. “Victory is mine” shouted a local pastor upon her exit from the dusky gym. I saw poll workers in business casual and poll workers with backward baseball caps. Seniors on canes and boyz in the hood stood together, and no one nervously clutched her purse. It was history.

I have never been more proud to be a black man. Because I felt part of something — a community that did not care that I am a card-carrying Republican, because they knew how I would vote. I would vote for the men and women who gave their lives that this day might come to pass. So when I voted for Barack Obama, I dug deep with no regrets. It was a vote for him — and Liuzzo, Schwerner, Goodman, Reeb, and Cheney. Evers and Till being dead yet speaketh.

If those names are less familiar to you than the names of weak presidents such as Buchanan, Grant, and Pierce, then you get my point. The platform of the presidency has elevated men (not a typo) unworthy of the office. Whether or not Obama will become as those weak leaders, or whether history will proclaim him to rank with Lincoln and Roosevelt will be determined by time.

But the hope engendered by his candidacy transcends the power of his message. African Americans stood in long lines, misty rain, and in full view of racist antagonists to say “this is one of us,” despite the fact that his father was an African and his mother was white. The accident of history identifying any person of color as a Negro enables blacks with a long history of dealing with racism to identify with a man who does not share all of their history, but by color and commitment lays claim to their predicament.

So I joined the party of the people of the predicament — the girl with the braids, the seniors on canes, the families voting together, the cars driving by honking their support, and the revivalist fervor of a people who felt that this time they had a voice. It was the voice of those who stood — no, marched for the rights of those who now stood for hours to vote. The voice cried, “My feet are tired but my soul is rested.” How dare anyone complain about the blood rushing to feet standing in the voting line when compared to the blood shed for a democracy celebrated across the planet. Blood flowed and feet blistered that the orator — he of the preacher’s rhythmic call and response (“yes, we can”) — would be the next president of the United States. Change and hope kissed on an autumn night celebrating a union that felt religious, transcendent, almost otherworldly in a world of pragmatic politics specializing in the art of the possible.

Transcendent — that’s spiritual stuff. A spirit of American and even African-American revivalism grew in the days approaching the election. Many congregations and religious bodies organized prayer vigils on both sides of the partisan sea. As in 2004, one group emerged convinced that its prayers were answered. Those who believed that they would never see an African-American president in their lifetime attributed Barack Obama’s victory to divine intervention. Organizations prayed for candidates committed to issues as varying as assisting the poor, sanctity of one man-one woman marriage, and even the counting of votes — prayers lifted from the lips of Protestants, the pens of Catholic bishops, and the wisdom of Jewish rabbis.

While praying for a campaign does not constitute new behavior, the more public display of faith on the Democratic side had not been seen since the civil rights movement (when there was a somewhat different Democratic Party). Indeed, African-American communities recalled images of the religious fervor of the civil rights movement in the grass-root similarities between the marches of the sixties and the Obama campaign organization of 2007-2008. Even Obama’s acceptance speech both borrowed from (“we as a people will get there”) and referenced the work of Martin Luther King, as did several pundits and newscasts. One TV broadcast even juxtaposed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with Obama’s election night address.

The little girl running circles through the gym soared with an energy reminding me of the highest aspirations of the human spirit. Her presence in an intergenerational gathering of voters who did not complain about the two- and three-hour waits at the polls reminded me of the lines of marchers who put their lives on the line so that we might stand in this new line.

No one was tired. There was a borrowed strength from feet that had marched and knees that had prayed. It was the spirit of revival.

–Harold Dean Trulear is associate professor of applied theology at Howard University School of Divinity.

  • Gradine of Atlanta

    Dr. Trulear has expressed the sentiments of African Americans all over the country. The great joy that we are feeling as a people at this time is immeasurable. Personally it is hard to put into words. It is indescribable. I am one of those African Americans that never thought that I would live to see this day. I have never been more proud of our country as I am at this moment. The election of President Elect Barak Obama is so much bigger than his appointment to the office of president of the most powerful nation in the world.

    Most Non-African Americans just see this as we (African Americans) voted for this man because he is black. That is not totally true. I see this as fate. I see this as a spiritual moment. I believe that GOD has plans and he has chosen those special ones to carry out his plans. I see Barak Obama as one of those chosen by GOD to carry out his plans for mankind. The United States as well as the rest of the world is so desperately in need of a change. The world as a whole is in terrible shape. We are experiencing economic, environmental and countless social challenges. Barak Obama represents someone that may be able to cause the world to just pause for a minute and think. Think of a better way, think of a different point of view, just stop and think period. I am not suggesting that he will walk on water or part the red sea, but I do believe that he can affect changes that can benefit us all as part of the human race. This can be seen in the world’s reaction to his appointment.

    As Dr. Trulear describes how he felt as he cast his vote, his feelings of deep sentiment and remembrance of those that have gone before. I reflect on how I felt as I cast my vote. The enormous sense of joy and pride, the overwhelming feelings of gratitude to those non-African Americans that were able to put aside their fears and doubts to elect the man that was clearly the best choice for the office of President and he just happened to be an African American.

    The part that non-African Americans do not see is enormous pride that has filled our hearts. It is on the faces all African Americans that I see. The feeling is in the air. There is a spirit of self-admiration, self-confidence and most importantly self-love. I am middle aged and the people I am most happy for are the elders and the young people. The elders because of this long awaited affirmation of our people and as for the young people the big broad shoulders that Barak Obama has given them to stand on. I have a co-worker whose 4 year old son asked to wear a tie to school the day after the election because he wanted to be like Barak Obama. If a 4 year old can be inspired by the current events, imagine the African American teenagers and young adults that may be struggling with what this country may have to offer them. This is what the election of this strong, intelligent, father, husband and most importantly great leader that happens to be one of us has done for a people that has longed for a moment like this.

    Some may think it unfair to bequeath such a huge burden on the shoulders of our new president but being Black in American has been a burden in itself. So it is as Dr. Trulear says, truly a spirit of revival.

    Gradine of Atlanta
    Proud American

  • mcrichmary

    I am white but have always believed in equality and believe that blacks have the ability to rise to any level. Obama has proven this with his ability to run a successful campaign for president. America is the land of opportunity for all. I am disappointed that more of the electorate was not able to see beyond his skin color to the ‘content of his character’ as Martin Luther King described in his historic speach. It is my opinion that blacks that voted for Obama because he is black are just as much racist as whites who vote for whites because of the color of their skin. The media was implicit in their love of Obama and I am very frankly worried about the future of our country. As a Christian, we all have a stake in our future as a country. We must all be involved and ensure that we are able to worship freely the God of our choice. If Obama is allowed to let Nancy Polosi determine the agenda or if Obama feels entitled to pay back the liberal left, our country will soon turn the corner to hedonism. Pray for Obama and that his heart will turn toward the Lord.

  • shakirah tulloch

    This event has made me truly honered to be an American. My 7 year old daughter told me that she wants to be the president of the United States and i told her if she works hard it can surely happen. If I would have told that to my mom when i was 7 she would have told me it can happen, but deep down inside she would have felt that her little black girl would never live out that dream. My granparents and my father did not get to live to see this event take place but I know that they are smiling down from heaven. Not only is our President a black man but he is a very honest, and intellectual individual. I feel that President Obama is a very intelligent, and hardworking man who has many realistics goals for a better America. I feel very confident that with the help of his colleagues he can help this country out of the deep hole that it has been put in for the past 8 years. I will pray for him and his family and I hope that we as a country can really come together and unite to support our president. We need a change but a change is not going to come easy but with the grace of god and the unity of this country we can make it happen.

  • D.L.Middleton

    I am proud to be an American. I pray for America to become all that we can be. We must support our president. Native Americans, African Americans, most certainly have not always had the choice or the voice to participate in their fate as citizens. Native nationalities have become extinct or have immersed in America’s melting pot. Forced assimilation, on one hand, and jim crow laws on the other hand. Living in atrocious conditions, working without pay, bitter fruit swinging, wounded knees; the native holocaust-we have enough dirty laundry to last us many lifetimes. Not so very long ago. Today,
    there are far to many trashy neighborhoods with hungry children, uneducated young mothers, unemployed angry warriors commiting suicide with drink and drugs, welfare dependant families, and incarcerated sons, in these united states. We need our military, but we do not need war unnecessary. The stronger we are intellectually at home(the education of our children needs upgrading), the stronger we are emotionally(firm stable income bearing families), the stronger we are physically- healthcare maintenance and prevention- the better we will be to stand any test or challenge we may face as a nation. Paying CEO’s enormous incomes while minimum wage is $7.15 an hour, closing our companies here(Automobile manufacturers, clothing, etc.,) at home and then opening them in other countries without jobs here at home, yet allowing more and more people to come into America- what are we trying to do, implode? The president has so many things to contend with. Are we the world? Remember the song “We are the world” …., with the internet making everyone in this world closer-maybe there is a revolution within that we may need to cautiously attend to. The wheels roll no matter what. Why does our commander in chief have to be the bad guy, let’s not pay the CEO’s more than what a GI makes who’s putting his life on the line. I may sound kooky, but its kooky to me to pay a guy sitting in an office so much money. There should be a new ingredient for the piece of pie that everyone wants and as an American should be able to enjoy. The way we deal with other countries says a lot about who we are as a country. It is strange for there to be hungry unemployed, homeless, ill, people in this country, when the national debt is overwhelming, and when the work to be done here is done in other countries. How can we be one in accord when there is such great discrepancy between the minimum wage earner and the Enron-Exxon CEO?
    There must be a concerted effort for each one of us. The rich and the poor, democrat and republican, all of us will have to give and take to make our country what is meant to be. This country sets the trend for the entire world. We exemplify courage, resilience, and victory. We have come so far in such a short amount of time.
    I am breathing, and there is an American of African heritage that is in charge of this country…, God is mighty!