The line at the Jefferson County Courthouse this morning were deceptively short when I arrived at 7 a.m. When I went, I saw another, massive line that stretched as far as the eye could see down the long corridor, easily more than 150 people. Many were neighbors and friends.
As fate would have it, I ended up standing in line next to Sephira Shuttlesworth, wife of Birmingham’s fiery Civil Rights icon, Fred Shuttlesworth. He’s in the hospital now, she said, but his mind is clearly on the historic presidential.
We also met a young female news reporter from the Netherlands, one of many international reporters here in Birmingham, Alabama, because the city’s pivotal Civil Rights history laid the foundation on which Sen. Barack Obama now stands, on the brink of the U.S. presidency.
She was observing the elections, — the long lines, the mood of voters, particularly black voters. She came over to me, but almost immediately I directed her to Mrs. Shuttlesworth, who shared her thoughts.
Mrs. Shuttlesworth spoke with pride of her husband’s sacrifices here in Birmingham, and that Obama – in a personal letter sent to Shuttlesworth after our airport was renamed in his honor — acknowledged that he stands on her husband’s shoulders. She said it’s one thing to know history, but to be aware of history, as it’s being made, is a deep experience.
The young woman wanted to know what it was like for blacks here, what they endured, the ugly discrimination and unfair treatment. Racism, Mrs. Shuttlesworth said is still a factor in this country. The reporter said, “It’s a wonder you don’t hate white people.”
But Mrs. Shuttlesworth replied, “In our culture, we are taught not to hate. We have no time for it. Hate pulls you down.”
Despite the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, blacks understand that our success in this country depends on resisting hate, working across racial boundaries while, as a group, embracing a must-think-better-and-do-better attitude displayed in the historic rise and personal story of Sen. Obama and his presidential campaign.
His success is a reflection of our own success as a group of people. How he does after the election results tonight will be a telling sign of our near future.
It’ll also be a test of the country, and the words etched on the side of the Jefferson County Courthouse, words that Mrs. Shuttlesworth saw and wrote down as she came in to vote: “Equal and exact justice to all men of whatever state or persuasion.”