The chants and the beat of drums overwhelmed the Harlem State Office Plaza last night on 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. When CNN declared at about 11 p.m. that Barack Obama had won the presidency , the crowd erupted in a glorious, pulsing frenzy.
“We makin’ history tonight,” said Sharon Farley as she danced joyfully on a bench. “No sleep for us! We’re gonna celebrate all night!”
From Times Square to Bedford-Stuyvesant, to livingrooms to church basements to bars around the the city, New York marked the election of the country’s first African-American president with dancing, horn-honking, hollering and tears of joy.
But the biggest display of emotion came in Harlem, where thousands – including big name politicos like U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and Gov. David Paterson – gathered in the plaza to watch the election returns on a loud jumbotron.
Eugene Rounds, 61, four Obama buttons on his lapel, took in the crowd, breaking into a wide smile. “I could not be more proud,” he said.
Rounds voted early in the morning and talked about how his 96-year-old mother followed him to the polls later. “She said, ‘God allowed me to be alive to see this change in America,’” he said.
On the other side of the plaza, Maxine Murrell gazed toward the TV screen, her eyes welling up. “This make me want to cry because my father used to be a poor man porter,” she said. “This means a lot. Just standing here. And I know I’m going to cry.”
Amidst the crowd, Anthony Fleming, a 20-year Harlem resident, carted out his store-bought life-size cut-out of Obama to the sidewalk across from the brand new neon-lit H & M Department Store.
“America’s on fire and we have to put the fire out,” said Fleming, who parked himself just beyond the frenzy, charging passersby $5 to have a shot with his cardboard Obama. “White or black. If we’re in the same neighborhood and your house is burning and my house is next to yours, I’ll bring you water.”
The magnitude of the moment — and its impact on the nation — didn’t escape a family standing nearby. Jose Perkins, 42, took in the scene with his daughter Nicole, 25, and his son Julian, 17.
“I can see the hope, because now my son can become president,” said Perkins.
Julian piped in, “I sure hope so.”
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