Andrew Dys

After Obama re-election in divisive race, Rock Hill’s working people say the country must unite

Just hours after President Barack Obama won re-election, the waitresses and cooks and dishwashers at Red’s Grill in Rock Hill arrived for work Wednesday morning. It didn’t make a bit of difference who won or lost – the rent was due.

Customers came in, some in heavy work clothes and jackets, others older and retired, to eat at Rock Hill’s oldest restaurant, open since 1948.

The Obama supporters were happy. Mary A. Edwards, 54, even carried the leftover Obama signs she had from the campaign. She laid the signs on the table next to her breakfast. She showed everybody.

She sat with the Rev. M.N. Baxter of Jerusalem Baptist Church, who sang out the name, “Obama, Obama” when the huge picture on the front page of The Herald was shown around the place

“Obama is for the working people, the poor people, and he won so the poor, the working people, won,” Edwards said.

The Rev. Roy Brice of Pleasant View AME Zion Church sat nearby. He talked about the election of Obama as important, but a new church is being built and that requires work and faith and unity – just as Obama said about building the country.

People at Red’s Grill – the clergy and the lay people, the workers and the customers – knew that no matter who the votes were cast for in such a close race, a united America is a better America.

At a table right next to these black supporters of a black president sat the Rev. Gerald Bennett, his wife of 51 years, Helen Bennett, and his sister-in-law, Julia Bennett – white voters who were not Obama supporters.

But the Bennetts are supporters of something far more important than any politician. They are America supporters.

“All of us have to come together and work together in this country, and pray for our president,” said Helen Bennett. “For those who voted for him or not, he is the president of all of us. We must pray for him and his success and the success of the country.

“We all prosper together – or we don’t prosper together. It is up to us.”

The politicians of both parties, the people of both parties, said Helen Bennett, better learn to work together.

“The president knows he has to do some things differently to get this country back on its feet,” she said. “The word is compromise. They all better learn it.”

The federal government must pay its debts, not spend more than it has, said Rev. Bennett. Obama may have won, but he can’t keep spending money we do not have, he said, and all Americans will then have a better chance at success.

“Because there is not a black America, there is not a white America, there is just America,” Rev. Bennett said.

Into the diner amidst the non-stop conversations that make Red’s such a place of action walked Rock Hill’s shortest preacher, Ronnie Aiton. Aiton, a white lay minister, runs a ministry called Kids for Jesus that gives kids rides to church. His buses, when full, look like rainbows. Every color rides those buses. Every ride is free.

He also preaches.

“This morning I did a chapel service at a Christian school, little kids, and some of them were glum from the election,” Aiton said. “Chances are, their parents were for Romney. I had them line up. I showed them if they pull one way, and the other side pulls the other way, that nothing gets done.

“We all pull together, the same direction, everybody succeeds.”

Next came the Rev. Leroy Ellison, a black pastor at age 88 who more 40 years ago successfully sued the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. over the ability of black workers to get better paying jobs, advance into supervisory positions, and have equal opportunity at the old Bleachery plant that was at one time the city’s largest employer.

And now, in 2012, Ellison eats eggs and grits and talks about Obama getting re-elected as president of all Americans. Obama, twice elected now, showed what happens when all Americans of any color get an equal shot.

Ira Benson, a locksmith, sat with Rev. Ellison. If somebody is locked out, it sure doesn’t matter who is president. Benson will unlock the door and he sure expects to be paid. Breakfast costs money.

But Benson, a black man, said Obama’s re-election does matter. Obama can continue what he started, he said.

“The country can continue to recover, because everybody – no matter what they look like – needs a job,” Benson said.

Some of those who came into Red’s Grill during the busy rush just ate and took off; no time to chat.

“I didn’t vote, and I gotta work,” said one guy in overalls. “Makes no difference who the president is.”

For those with jobs, Wednesday was a work day. The unemployment rate was just as high Wednesday as it was Monday before Election Day.

Obama said in his election victory speech early Wednesday morning – just a few hours before the first coffee was poured at Red’s – that America’s common bonds mean that together, black and white, young and old, we can all make the future great.

He is right, and Red’s Grill had all those people in it Wednesday. Young waitresses trying to save a buck. Thirty-something construction workers. Older pastors and a locksmith, a pair of electricians. Blacks and whites sitting at tables side-by-side.

An 80-year-old black man named Calvin Howard, who drove a taxicab for decades, talked about growing up poor and how he always had to work and was proud to work. His first job paid $35 – $35 a week.

“I could do mechanic work and brick work and any work there was,” Howard said. “Work is what made this country great.”

The election is over. The work to fix the country, to put people back to work, remains.

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald