For black Americans, Obama victory is major leap

By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

For many black Americans, it’s an astounding leap from the open, pervasive racism of just 40 years ago to Tuesday’s election of Barack Obama to the presidency.

The Rev. Vivian Jones-Pippens remembers when she and her young son weren’t allowed to eat at a lunch counter because of their race.

"I never thought I’d live to see the day when there was a black man running for president, ever," Jones-Pippens said last week, noting she meant a candidate with a real chance of winning.


When she was young, racism circled Jones-Pippens like an ever-present and vicious neighbor’s dog — always ready to escape the surrounding fenceline and attack.

Racism was also something a black person dared not speak of openly.

Living in Rochester

Jones-Pippens now lives in Rochester with her son Marlon Jones, a supervisor at Hormel Foods in Austin, and his family. She came here a few years ago from Birmingham, Ala.

"My remembrances of things are so different from the present," she said. "If you were my skin color, you didn’t even get to work in the department stores in Birmingham. Even if you were black, you had to be lighter skin tone."

She stopped at a lunch counter with her son, then a young boy, soon after restaurants were required to wait on blacks. Most hadn’t actually started.

"You can’t be served here," a woman at the counter said.

Jones, now 53, threw a tantrum when his mom tried to pull him away.


"She normally would go to the back of that particular place and get hamburgers, like a back alley. She would go and get the hamburgers and then we would go to the movie theater," Jones said. Blacks had to sit in the balcony.

Jones-Pippens had until then protected her son by making back-alley burgers seem normal.

Jones remembers the incident, saying at the time, "Mommy, I’d like to ride on the stool" before he plopped on the stool and began spinning around on it.

"And they tried to put us out," Jones-Pippens said. "But they finally fed us. ... And he was the first little black boy to get served there."

Election’s impact

Obama’s victory will change the country, Jones-Pippens said.

"It’s a step. It’s a giant step for mankind, and I’m looking forward to it, and not just because he’s a black man. I’m looking forward to the change he’s going to bring."

"I really want you to watch this election close," she told her grandson DeVante Jones. "This is history in the making."


It’s hard for DeVante to really understand what life was like in the days when skin color meant some people in the U.S. could not eat in the restaurants where they worked or that black people couldn’t get jobs in department stores unless their skin was light enough. And being black meant a constant back-of-the-mind recognition that the world was dangerous.

"I think that was a really tough time. It’s kind of amazing. In school we’ve talked about it," DeVante said. "But having a real person talk about it, that’s amazing."

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