And whether Obama wins or loses, Ivory Atlee, a 34-year-old, black investment banker, said he'll no doubt have a transformative effect on younger black Americans, who've been bombarded with negative imagery in recent years.
"It's real hope," he said. "There's so many negative images out there. To see Barack and his family endure what they've endured will carry us a long way."
At the Adam Clayton Powell voting station, where tonight's event was being orchestrated, voting was orderly, and bilingual translators were on hand to assist.
One 21-year-old, who arrived with her brother, sister and their young children, said she was excited to cast her first vote in such a historic election. "We are all so excited," Chanelle Bekles, an English student at nearby Fordham University, told ABCNews.com.
As the iconic and emotional heart of New York City's African-American community, Harlem was home to the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell and black publisher and orator Marcus Garvey. Malcolm X died here after his assassination in 1965.
David Dinkins, who served as New York City's first and only black mayor, from 1989 to 1993, acknowledged that other African-Americans, especially the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., had laid the groundwork for an Obama presidency.
"Everybody stands on everybody else's shoulders," he told ABCNews.com earlier this week. "Today blacks are swelling with pride.
"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."
Obama's ascent from community organizer to the Illinois Senate to the U.S. Senate and perhaps beyond, has historic significance, win or lose.
"It demonstrates to everyone that folks of color can read and write and count and think like everyone else," Dinkins said. "We've come a long way, but it's still important to recognize the legacy of slavery. We still live in a racist society."
"It represents a kind of culmination of long struggle for absolute participation in the American Drean," said the Rev. Calvin Butts, whose politically active Abyssinian Baptist Church celebrates its 200th anniversary next week. "This is all part of the political struggle that part of the history of church."
Local churches have been active in getting out the vote. "One young man took his aged mother down six flights of stairs this morning just to vote," Butts said
"The mood is one of great hope and inspiration. When you mention his [Obama's] name in church, it gets a standing ovation. People have been hyped up for a long time and are already referring to him as President Obama."
In a place like Harlem, where gentrification has added white faces to its neighborhood streets, many people believe an Obama presidency reflects its own progress.
"American democracy is truly becoming fully multicultural in relation to voting, power and ethnicity," said Manning Marable, director of the Center for Contemporary Black History at Harlem's Columbia University. "He's not about racial confrontation, and he represents racial conciliation and the bridging of racial differences, even in his own person."
But the author of soon-to-be-published "Barack Obama and New Black Politics" told ABCNews.com he's looking forward to tonight, where he will be home, just a stone's throw from Harlem.
"It's going to be at a party," Marable said. "Like when [heavyweight boxing champion] Joe Louis knocked out [German champ] Max Schmeling in 1938."