Many African-Americans Say They Are Proud of Obama’s Presidency and Are Sad to See Him Leave Office

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, a civil rights leader, said he wished President Obama could stay in the White House. “If there was a way I could keep him there I would keep him there for another term,” he said. Credit Kevin D. liles for The New York Times
The Rev. C.T. Vivian, a civil rights leader, said he wished President Obama could stay in the White House. “If there was a way I could keep him there I would keep him there for another term,” he said. Credit Kevin D. liles for The New York Times

In his 30s and 40s, the Rev. C.T. Vivian rode with the Freedom Riders, organized sit-ins in Nashville and worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many years later, before the 2008 election, he traveled the country along with other civil rights leaders exclaiming to voters that a Barack Obama presidency was exactly the kind of prize that they had been fighting for all their lives.

All of that came back to him during a meeting at the White House three weeks ago between President Obama and several of those leaders. Mr. Vivian told the president how proud he was of him, and how sad he was to see him go.

And then he began to cry.

“If there was a way I could keep him there I would keep him there for another term,” Mr. Vivian, 91, said later from his home in Atlanta. “It is difficult for people who are not African-American to understand what it has been to have someone in the White House that you know understands you.”

The 2016 presidential campaign has been mesmerizing the country with its party-crashing personalities, what’s-next intrigue and promise of a tantalizing November.

But a large segment of the country has also been busy gazing upon the presidency that is ending. In interviews, African-Americans around the country said they were counting down the last 10 months of Mr. Obama’s term with pride, with sadness and also with a looming despair.

At dinner tables, Bible studies and classrooms throughout black America, elders, their children and their children’s children have been asking whether the breakthrough they thought they would never see will turn out to be an anomaly that they never see repeated.

“I come from an area where we never thought it was going to be possible,” said Russell Singleton, 64, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago and now tends a shoe shine station in the president’s old barbershop. He recalled as a child seeing a racial slur stenciled onto a sidewalk in bright yellow paint, and as a teenager hurling bricks the night Dr. King was assassinated.

He added, shaking his head, “I don’t think I’ll see another black president in my lifetime and I’ll say in the younger generation’s lifetime.”

“They won’t allow us to have the reins again,” he continued. “It’s a big prize and they hold onto it dearly.”

On the West Side of Chicago, Jakya Hobbs, 13, said matter-of-factly that Mr. Obama’s election was a “miracle,” and not in a good way. “Our system isn’t built for a black person to become president,” she said.

Perhaps no one expressed the feeling more viscerally than the young black girl who was captured by her grandmother on video wailing hysterically when she learned that Mr. Obama was soon leaving the White House. The video went viral on Facebook, and after Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, showed it to him, he told the girl’s grandmother in a Facebook post to “dry her tears, because I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’ll still be a citizen just like her,” he added in a response that might not have pacified the girl.

Ms. Jarrett said Mr. Obama “is aware of the fact that it is natural for people to have this feeling of sadness.”

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Source: The New York Times | YAMICHE ALCINDOR