CHICAGO (AP) — With delirious cheers from more than 100,000 people jammed into the city’s Grant Park, Barack Obama’s hometown embraced his landmark victory as a dream finally come true.
“It’s fantastic,” said Hulon Johnson, 71, a retired Chicago public school principal celebrating the election of the first black president. “I’ve always told my kids this was possible; now they’ll have to believe me.”
At a community center in the historic black neighborhood of Bronzeville south of downtown, 58-year-old Mary Jackson stood before a TV screen, her hands over her mouth and tears rolling down her cheeks.
“My God, my God,” she said. “This is beyond belief. I feel so happy, so protected.”
Young and old of every race gathered in Grant Park to watch the Illinois senator speak. At just after 11 p.m., he took the stage with his wife, Michelle, and two young daughters to screams and cheers. Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey were in the crowd.
The downtown Chicago park – where police fought anti-war protesters during the turbulent 1968 Democratic convention – was transformed by white tents and a stage lined with American flags and hung with red, white and blue bunting.
Beth Keegan, a 45-year-old white teacher from the wealthy suburb of Winnetka, jumped in the air and hugged her friend when Obama’s victory was announced.
“I’m ecstatic!” she yelled. “It will be the beginning of racial healing in the country.”
Also in the park crowd, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had tears streaming down his face as he heard the news. Jackson had to apologize earlier in the campaign for crude remarks he made about Obama that were caught by an open microphone.
His son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., called the election “a peaceful revolution.”
“Tonight is an extraordinary celebration of an American story,” the younger Jackson said at the rally. The Chicago Democrat won re-election Tuesday. “Barack Obama has obviously engaged the American people.”
Many had crammed into Grant Park to be a part of something that would be remembered for generations.
“I want her to be able to tell her children when history was made, she was there,” said Alnita Tillman, 50, who kept her 16-year-old daughter, Raven, out of school so they could be at the park by 8 a.m., more than 10 hours before the gates opened.
The crowd erupted in cheers each time an Obama victory was announced in another state.
On an unseasonably warm November evening, with the temperature around 60 degrees, the rally felt like a cross between an outdoor rock concert and a big family outing. Many people wore Obama T-shirts and buttons and ate pizza. By 9 p.m. several babies slept on their mothers’ chests. Other children snoozed in strollers.
In the park crowd was Lisa Boon, 42, of Chicago, who said she burst into tears earlier in the day pondering what an Obama victory would mean.
Boon said her father was the cousin of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black Chicagoan who was abducted and killed in Mississippi in 1955, purportedly for whistling at a white woman.
“I was thinking of all the things done to Emmett and injustices to black people,” she said. “This is amazing, simply amazing.”