When Florida and North Carolina looked like they were headed into the blue zone, patrons at the Lenox Lounge, a smooth jazz joint and neighborhood hangout filled to the gills broke out in cheers and applause.
At Harlem's landmark restaurant Sylvia's, Mark Ali, 42, a hip-hop producer, said Obama gives hope to children. "My ancestors are singing in heaven," he said.
Jeff Mann, 51, a construction worker, said, "You can't be anything but joyful. Obama is going to change the world."
Outside the restaurant, Obama supporters carved giant, individual ice sculptures of the letters spelling out Obama's name.
Old Guard activists, who for the most part supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in her run for the Democratic primary, also rejoiced in the moment.
David Dinkins, who served as New York City's first black mayor, from 1990 to 1993, acknowledged other African Americans who had laid the groundwork for Obama's presidency. "Everybody stands on everybody else's shoulders," he told ABC News.
"Blacks are swelling with pride," he said of the Harlem event, where he joined other notables like singer Harry Belafonte and Lynn Whitfield.
Dinkins said he remembers a quite different era for blacks in America.
"I am a child of the Depression, in the Marine Corps in 1945 stationed in the South," Dinkins, 81 and now a professor at Columbia University, said. "I know how it was when black soldiers and Marines were treated less well than German prisoners of war. These were the days of white and colored water fountains."
Earlier in the day, lines wrapped around polling stations where what was expected to be a record number of African-American voters -- mirroring record numbers in all demographic groups around the nation -- cast their ballots.
Many, like Atlanta's Andrew Young, who served as King's ally in demonstrations in Selma, Ala., and Florida in the 1960s, said the election has "psychological" implications for black Americans.
"The significance of this election is global and sends a message around the world that America really does believe in democracy and that we practice the values we preach," said Young, who also served as mayor of Atlanta and ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter.
"It's natural for Obama," said Young. "He is African he went to school in Indonesia. It forced him be exceptional in his humility and his judgment. His childhood gave him a kind of cultural DNA to hear and understand people from all over the world."
But can Obama deliver Americans, in the midst of two foreign wars and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, to the reality of the Promised Land?
"We may have arrived, but there is work to be done," said Jackson, who sees the civil rights movement is an "unbroken continuum."
"We are now free, but there are still structural inequalities," he said.
Indeed, African-Americans are overrepresented in American prisons, suffer higher infant mortality rates and health issues. The achievement gap between blacks and white in education still exists and from the negative campaign tactics, many Americans believe racism is still alive.
"We celebrate, but there is unfinished business," Jackson said.
Isaac Farris, who played with "Uncle Martin Luther" as a 7-year-old, agrees.