Forty years after U Street was torn apart by riots in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., D.C.’s historically black neighborhood broke out into emotional and dramatic celebration when Barack Obama was announced as the country’s first black president Tuesday night.
A crowd of nearly a thousand people clogged the streets, crying, hugging, screaming and chanting.
“I’m crying because I’m so happy. Something huge happened,” said Paige Robinson, one of the many black women celebrating. “We all want to ignore the reality of it, but today we proved that we are all humans.”
What started out with a single street performer and his drum near the corner of 14th and U streets turned into a spontaneous musical celebration by a group of musicians who called themselves the D.C. Obama Presidential Victory Celebration Drumline.
“We are friends who decided to bring our drums out,” said Ken Quam, who planned the performance weeks ago. “We are D.C.”
The group inspired locals to bring out pots and pans and make noise with whatever they had.
“This is every ethnicity of D.C.,” said resident Dana Silva of the rapidly expanding celebration.
Devoted supporters came from every section of the District and throughout the country to share the moment with this multicultural community in the nation’s capital.
After hanging up the phone with family back home in Nigeria, Faith Makka, an avid Obama supporter and nurse at Georgetown Hospital, said, “This affects the whole world and it socialized the whole world. With a black male now president, it will break down barriers and broaden horizons.”
Covered with Obama/Biden pins, Miko Sloper, known as “the Street Doctor,” is normally a high school math teacher in Berkley, Calif., but he took the semester off to help campaign for Obama in Virginia.
“It’s about time,” Sloper said. “We wanted to have this celebration in 2000 and in 2004, but it was always stolen from us.”
GW graduate student Goldie Oforiatta said, “I was really scared that we might get this election stolen again. I prayed all day. We are living in history.”
Peter Chew, a political cartoonist originally from the District who was visiting from California, said he was shocked by the excitement.
“I have never seen people getting so excited about politics,” Chew said.
Amid the partying, a Seattle band, Spaceship Excellent, broke into a live set on the top of their tour bus when Obama was announced the winner. Throughout the night, the band put up red and blue balloons, each one representing 10 electoral votes.
When it started to rain, the band did not want to pack up.
“Should we do one more? We’re going to do one more: a salute to our new leader,” lead singer Beau Lewis told the crowd.
Even in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the crowd tripled in size, forcing police to close off a four-block radius to cars. Drivers who attempted to pass through gave up and left their cars in the middle of the street, as people climbed on top of a bus stop and a young man rejoiced from a tree.
Virginia resident Becky Zhou, who is Asian, said this election will “make a difference for every common person.”
She said, “He is black; (Asians) now have a voice too. It is a strong message for all minorities.”