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Barack Obama makes history as first black US president

Text by Lorena GALLIOT

Latest update : 2009-10-27

Democratic candidate Barack Obama has won the 2008 US presidential election, becoming the first black president in the country's history. Republican candidate John McCain has conceded defeat.

Click here for special correspondent Leela Jacinto's report from Grant Park, Chicago

Caroline Delabroy reports on Barack Obama's 'quiet revolution.'

President-elect Barack Obama smiled serenely at the thousands gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park, basking in their enthusiasm. His words, when he finally succeeded in being heard over their incessant cheers, reflected the historic quality of the election he had just won. “If you ever had any doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, tonight is your answer”, he began.

“It has been a long time in coming, but change has come to America!” he proclaimed, repeating the recurrent theme that came to symbolize his campaign. Echoing the speech that projected the young Illinois senator into the limelight at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama insisted that his election was that of all people, whether they be Black, White, Asian or Hispanic, male or female, able or disabled. “America is not just a collection of Red or Blue states”, he said. “They are and always will be the United States of America!”

“This victory belongs to you.”

The election of an African-American to be the 44th president of the United States, he said, is “a dream carried by the people who waited three or four hours (in line to vote) because they believed this time would be different.” He thanked the volunteers and activists who had worked for the democratic campaign, saying: “You made this happen”. “This is your victory”, he told his audience. “This government is made by the people, of the people, for the people.”


Obama’s victory was established with certainty shortly after 11pm East Coast time, far earlier that George Bush’s was in 2004. Swing state after swing state emerged in favour of the Democratic candidate. The turning point came when Obama won the state of Virginia’s 13 electoral college members. The traditionally Republican state followed in the steps of another key swing state, Ohio, that earlier began tipping the scale in favour of Obama. So far, Obama has won 365 electoral college votes, versus 162 for his opponent Republican John McCain, with 11states tied.

John McCain’s gracious acknowledgement of Obama’s victory came surprisingly quickly, almost as if he had been expecting his defeat and had had time to prepare for it. His dignified and conciliatory speech drew mild cheers and some hostile boos from the republican audience gathered in Phoenix, Arizona. “This is a historic election, and I recognize its significance for African-Americans”, said McCain, adding that “Obama had achieved a great thing” in his victory. He expressed his gratitude towards his supporters and his running-mate Sarah Palin, saying that “the failure was his, not theirs.”

“The road ahead will be long and steep.”

Obama thanked his rival for his “extraordinarily gracious” congratulations and recognized his “selfless leadership” in US politics. “I look forward to working with him and Governor Palin, he added. The President-elect also stressed that he will also be the president of those whose vote he did not win, saying that “he hears their voices, he needs their help.” “The road ahead will be long and our climb will be steep,” said Obama, referring both to the wars in the Middle East and the financial crisis. “But I have never been more hopeful that we will get there”, he concluded.

In Chicago, Obama’s supporters' joy exploded when their candidate’s victory was announced. Tears flowed freely on the cheeks of Reverend Jesse Jackson, Chicago-born pastor and a political and civil rights activist, who was present in the crowd. Emotion, hope and enthusiasm shone out of the thousands of eyes that gazed up at the country’s next president as he delivered his speech. As Obama punctuated his final words with what became the trademark slogan of his campaign, a thousand determined voiced repeated in unison: “Yes, we can. Yes, WE CAN.”

"Today is the beginning"

Standing in the press enclosure at Grant Park shortly after the speech, David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, said he had envisaged this momentous victory all along. “I had a deep belief in him and in the country,” said Axelrod, a consultant from Chicago has known Obama since the 1990s. “I chose to believe and I am so pleased.”

For many of the 125,000-odd people gathered at the park, Obama’s historic victory symbolized more than just a political win.

“I am so happy my 92-year-old grandmother lived to see this day. She insisted on voting today,” said 41-year-old Sheri Riley. “She didn’t think she would live to see a black man in the White House. And I’m so happy that my one-year-old daughter will grow up knowing that a black man or a Latino or anyone can be president of the USA. Today is the beginning.”

(With reporting from Leela Jacintho in Chicago)

Date created : 2008-11-05