The issue of race has been intertwined with the history of the United States since its inception. It has brought out the nation’s best and its worst — from the courage of the civil rights workers to the murderous terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.
“It’s an astonishing and wonderful thing that so many Americans are finding common ground,” says Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University in New Jersey. “It could be a moment of such historical consequence and tremendous racial meaning … but Barack Obama winning the U.S. presidency does not translate into the end of racial stereotyping or the end of racial inequality.”
For many veterans of the civil rights movement, like former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, much more is at stake than an election.
“The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States would be the greatest thing for racial reconciliation and racial understanding that we could have happen in this country,” says Winter. “And I think it would mean so much to us as a leader in the world as well as to be able to point to him as president of the United States.”