Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- 'Fess up. You wept.

OK, I'll go first. Tears came twice.

First, when John McCain hushed his booing crowd to acknowledge the significance of this nation's electing an African-American to the presidency. Second, when Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

Amen, brother.

This may say more about my friends than about Obama, but I haven't spoken to anyone who didn't become emotional. (Please don't write to tell me you were unmoved. I think you've already been in touch.)

Owing to my pale pigmentation and heritage, perhaps I am not able to fully understand the impact that Obama's election has had on African-Americans.

But like many other Americans, especially Southerners, my life is inextricably intertwined with the African-American experience. It isn't just a bit of thread or texture in life's tapestry, but is central to my emotional and psychological constitution.

Although a child during the civil rights era, I remember the protests, the sit-ins, the march from Selma. I remember the day Martin Luther King was shot -- and the following morning at school when all the black students stormed out of class, prompting my nervous English teacher to send for smelling salts.

Most important to me personally, I remember Dorothy, the woman who cared for me after my mother's death, and her two much-older children, Ronnie and Sylvia, who were an intimate part of my very young life.

I eventually learned that Dorothy was black, but to me, she was simply "Dot," the first person I was consciously aware of loving and the only mother I knew. My own was gone before I was able to discern that a mother is an entity separate from oneself.

Dorothy was in fact part white. Her grandfather was a wealthy white tobacco czar in North Florida (no known details on that bit of history). Before becoming the center of my universe, she had aspired to be a singer and had performed in a famous Harlem nightclub. Her voice had that smoky sound that calls up cigarettes, sultry nights and stolen glances.

We passed our days mostly in her neighborhood -- the "colored part of town." Dorothy's mother had a little grocery store with a hardwood floor, a squeaky screen door and a countertop featuring gallon jars filled with Bazooka bubble gum, pickled eggs and hard candy.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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