Rock Hill’s Northside voting precinct, inside a community center, sits right in the middle of what is called “The Mill Hill.” It is an urban precinct filled with working-class people who are white and black and above all, tough.
Any old mill neighborhood is always tough, yet this Rock Hill neighborhood with two mills within a stone’s throw – Industrial and Aragon – might have been the toughest.
On Election Day when a black man and a white man were running for president, these tough and tender people never mentioned the race of their candidate when asked who each chose. They voted for the best man.
Bill Adkins, 85, sure did. Adkins was on a PT boat blown up in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. Adkins, from that mill hill then and now, turned deaf by the blast in war, helped save 18 men from two sunken ships in 1945 when he wasn’t even old enough to vote.
Sixty-seven years later, Bill Adkins and his wife, Audrey, walked in to vote as he has since the 1940s. Bill used a cane.
Politicians get cheers and ovations when they go to swing states, while the men who saved America walk with a cane in silence into a voting precinct on an urban mill hill in Rock Hill, S.C.
“A split ticket between us,” said Audrey Adkins. “Both of us didn’t decide right until the end. It was a toss-up.”
“I like to think I earned that vote,” said Bill Adkins. “I voted for the man I think is best.”
Bill Adkins walked out, slowly, with his cane. No voter ever mattered more.
The Northside precinct was filled with great people. Frankie Millwood, 72, 55 years living on this tough mill hill, and wearing a black Harley-Davidson leather vest to boot, voted for Democrat Barack Obama.
“He’s done a good job, and if these Republicans give him some help, he will do even more,” she said.
Doris Gordon, 56, a first-time voter, chose Obama. So did Daisy Barber, 78, voting for the second time in her life. She was so proud she almost cried.
Tony Oliver, in his 50s, said he chose Republican Mitt Romney at the last minute, after weeks of consideration, saying that the country needs a change in direction.
“It is an amazing thing, this vote, an honor and privilege as an American,” said Oliver.
It was the same in the country as in the city – tough and tender and together, even if the voters and votes are different.
Way out in southeastern York County, in Catawba’s only voting precinct, the line to vote on Tuesday snaked around the Catawba Chapel AME Zion Church – filled 364 days a year with almost all black people, but on this day, it was black people and white people together.
The color of the person in the line, or anything else about the person, didn’t matter one bit.
What mattered, these great people said, was the chance to vote for the president.
Stacie Morrison, 40, said she voted straight Republican.
“Change, I voted for change,” she said.
Cynthia Bickel said she voted for Romney because, “it is time to see America smile again.”
Brian Ballard, 31, who described himself as “a gay man,” said he voted for Obama. Ballard voted right before a guy named Terry Jackson who came out of the polling place and was asked if waiting 20 or 30 minutes to vote was worth it.
“Hell, yeah,” said Jackson. “I voted for Romney, and I am proud to have done it.”
In the parking lot, 100-year-old Philomena DiFrancesca voted. Poll workers brought the machine out to her grandson’s van. This lady, who first voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression and has voted ever since, voted for Romney in 2012.
Angela Faulkenberry voted for Romney because of social issues, especially her opposition to abortion. Travis McClanahan voted for Obama. Marty Robbins chose Romney, as did his wife and son, who voted for the first time at age 18.
“It was great to vote,” said Andrew Robbins.
His father waited a half-hour to vote, outside in the 45-degree cold, in a wheelchair.
“Something as important as America, it’s an honor to wait in this chair to vote,” said Marty Robbins.
In America, change of leadership is done without guns and bombs, bullets and threats. It is done by votes, by all people of all races and religions, working people from the city and the country, standing together in line in the cold.
Or waiting in wheelchairs because it matters so much.
Bonita Barber-Feaster, 39, said she wanted to make a difference with her vote. She did not say who she voted for.
“My choice, between me and God,” she said. “No matter who wins, we are all in this country together.”