America was a different place Wednesday. Rock Hill, York County, South Carolina. A better place.
I say that after Barack Obama, a black man, became the clear Democratic nominee for president. The first black man ever to represent a major party for that office. Headlines across the world screamed "History!"
But what makes the idea that history was made, that the world evolved and got better, was what I heard Wednesday from other people who have no connection to each other, except that they love this country. They loved it even when it had warts and boils on its skin, and they love it now that it's truly closer to having the smooth, clear skin of a prom queen.
What teachers told every kid forever, "You can grow up to be president one day," now is so much closer to being the truth.
Never miss a local story.
All talked of history Wednesday at the Shabazz Barber & Styling College and Salon. Chairs filled, spinning to debate and argue and laugh and point. All to have a say about a black man -- just like almost all the people in the place, except one who is Asian -- changing the world.
Leola Alexander, 87, mother of 12 black children, from the Jim Crow South of her youth and younger years, wore her Obama T-shirt. She stands about 4 feet, 6 inches tall. She seemed to touch the ceiling.
"Never thought I would live to see the day, in my lifetime," Alexander said.
"For people who look like me, they can really say today they, too, might have this chance. This is their America, too," said Deborah Caldwell.
Andrea Morris, in her 20s, said "It's our time. Black folks."
Jetta Koy, a backbone like iron because she does not bend as the lone Asian in this place, saying, "It's not just a black thing. Obama has to appeal to all of us. He needs the women. He needs Hispanics. He needs those people Hillary Clinton got."
From a chair getting his hair cut, Quentin Johnson said, "It's not a black thing. It's a change thing."
Explain yourself Mr. Johnson, 35-year-old black man.
"Obama opened up doors with this," Johnson said. "For everybody. Not just blacks."
Another 35-year-old black man Darius Daniels used the words "motivation," "accomplish" and more.
"Today more than ever, a black person can look at himself and say, 'I can do what I want in life. I've got to do something, to be somebody.'"
"White, black, young, old, men, women," said Alexander, the 87-year-old survivor of a world that told her in her youth she was less than equal.
The theme from so many was "Take away Obama's color, listen to his words."
"He doesn't say 'I,'" Johnson said. "He says 'we.' We can change this country. All of us."
One of those "we" is a self-described old white man and trailblazing civil rights lawyer, now 68 years old, named Tom McKinney. McKinney, a political independent, said the events of Tuesday night, the clinching of the nomination by Obama, was something he thought he would never see. He called it as significant an historic event as he has lived through. "All the little fights I had, what I tried to do with my life, it meant something," McKinney said.
McKinney is right. This is not about supporting Obama. This event, this ascendancy, is about loving America and what it can be. One does not have to love Obama -- or even plan to vote for him in November -- to embrace a country that can nominate a black man for president.
Obama's nomination, the rise of Hillary Clinton as the female candidate, the idea that America can be open to any and all who have the merit to rise to great heights, it made America brighter and stronger and more beautiful, McKinney said.
"It is no stretch to say what has happened in the last few hours, overnight around the world, is universal and global," McKinney said. "This puts America on a new level. A higher place. I woke up this morning with a lighter spirit, a bigger smile."
Yet all said, there is no doubt some in their community, their state, their country, will not vote for Obama because he is a black man.
But that does not change what happened Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Karen Shabazz, proprietor of the barber shop/salon/school and an Obama campaigner so fervent she is part of a group dubbed "Obama Mamas," was so overcome Wednesday she could not cut hair. She could not teach. She could do nothing but beam.
Weeks ago, she created shirts that show Martin Luther King and Obama on them, emblazoned with the words about men being judged by character, not skin color.
"I can look at my grandchildren today, this day, and say we live in a new country," Shabazz said. "This is not the end. It is just the beginning."
ON THE WEB