It was in the abandon of the two teenage black girls doing a funky electric slide along with their new best friend, a sandy-haired college kid in an "Obamapalooza" T-shirt who clearly had not watched enough "Soul Train."
It was in the eyes of the black grandmother who clutched her granddaughter to her face as a montage played on the JumboTron hundreds of yards away, showing a rainbow parade of Americans who helped Senator Barack Obama win the presidency.
The weight of history, while still heavy, seemed to lift a bit Tuesday night as the enormity of Obama's victory in the presidential race sunk in for the more than 100,000 gathered on Chicago's lakeshore.
Cordell McGary II, 29, could feel it. "This is the most important election of my life," he said, holding his girlfriend tightly. "And not only because he's a person of color. He transcends all color, gender and origin. He's a man of principle who has withstood anything they threw at him. What we saw tonight was a sense of where this country should be going."
His girlfriend, Nichole Cain, 28, saw an even bigger sign in Obama's win. "This election will be one of the turning points in history. It will take us in a positive direction to where this country should be."
The sea of black, white, Asian, Latino, gay and lesbian faces all had one thing in common: With each state called for their candidate, they let out a throaty whoop that grew with intensity as the electoral-vote tally climbed toward the magic 270 figure. From the time they began running into the park shortly after 7 p.m. until the cordoned-off field was packed to capacity a few hours later, the revelers — many in homemade Obama shirts and hats, as well as a rainbow assortment of official "O" gear — treated the gathering as a coronation, well before any numbers had come in.
Forget the polls or the predictions: There was a feeling of inevitability, of destiny, written in their postures as they waved giant American flags and patiently sat through early returns that made it seem like the race could end up being much tighter than it was. But as each major prize fell into the Obama column, the energy climbed and the tension turned to giddiness.
An interracial trio of first-time voters wearing homemade Obamapalooza tank tops could only cheer and give thanks that they were on hand to hear Obama's speech in person. "It's so amazing, especially for me. I want to be a politician someday. And he's everything I want to be when I get older, and this was my first presidential vote," said Chastity Burns, 21, who, like her friends, called her mother as soon as the results came in.
"If you've got grandparents and everybody that always stayed on you and told you how hard it was, like, 'Come on, you're going to appreciate that one day,' this is the dream that everybody had," said native Chicagoan Mike Gilla, 27, who called his grandmother first, because they've watched the entire election together. "It's democracy, too, and it's not even just for black people. It's for people that felt, like, disincluded in the government, period. 'The government don't care about us, they on that side, we on this side' ... but Barack Obama, everything he said came to the light. ... It's a validation of this country, man, how far they came."
Despite a campaign that often fell to the depths of personal attacks, questions about integrity and ability to lead, the crowd provided polite applause for Republican Senator John McCain as his solicitous concession speech played on the big screen. And when Obama paid tribute to his rival, the supporters honored their new leader not by booing, but by nodding their heads and lightly clapping for the senator who had fallen short in his second bid for the White House.
After Obama finished his address, there was an electric sense that a page had turned in the American story and that those gathered had witnessed an event that won't likely be repeated in their lifetimes.
"I'm so happy that Obama's the next president," said Khalief Miles, 22, who flew in from Philadelphia for the Obama rally. "It gives my life so much promise and lets me know my son can be something better. He can be something great. He can do anything he wants to do."
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