For many, a sense that a new era is here

"This was what the civil rights movement was about — that a candidate would be given a fair shot, judged on his ability, not his color," said Carolyn Brown Henderson, 58. "Barack did not allow race to define his candidacy."

In Jackson, Miss., Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said he "shed tears thinking about how far we had come; thinking about our brother who gave his life for this." Medgar Evers was shot to death in 1963 because of his civil rights work.

"Like most black Americans, we're just shocked beyond words that we have a black man to lead our country," Charles Evers said. "Forty-five years ago we couldn't even vote in Mississippi, and now we have a black president."

'Dawn of a new day'

In Birmingham, Ala., Carolyn McKinstry recalled four girlfriends killed 45 years ago in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, an atrocity that spurred civil rights legislation.

She was 14 and had walked upstairs to the sanctuary when the bomb exploded in the bathroom downstairs.

"It's the dawn of a new day," she said. "Some people think I'm bitter because I lost my friends. But all of us must be willing to let the past be the past."

Some civil rights veterans were giddy with delight.

"Who went to bed last night?" asked Franklin McCain, who in 1960 was one of four black college students who staged the first sit-in demonstration at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. "I'm on a natural high this morning. I don't know how long I'll be here, but I'll cherish it forever."

In Little Rock, Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of nine black students who integrated Central High School there in 1957, said Obama's election helped her understand that experience in a new way.

"This is a consciousness shift — things are never gonna go back. They're never gonna be the same again. I realize it was the same back in '57. Sometimes it takes you 51 years to understand."

A day of high emotions

Emotions ran deep at landmarks of the USA's racial history:

•Washington, D.C.: Rufus Horton was at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 for the March on Washington and heard King deliver his indelible "I Have a Dream" speech. Forty-five years later, at age 64, Horton stood there again Wednesday, absorbing the election results.

Horton, a retiree who lives in Landover, Md., called old friends with whom he was involved in the civil rights movement.

Wednesday morning, he drove to the memorial: "I went up the stairs and meditated for a while, re-read Lincoln speeches. I reflected on all I've seen from 1963 to 2008."

On the other side of the National Mall, about 20 people stood in front of scores of front pages of national and international newspapers displayed at the entrance of the Newseum, a journalism museum.

Kendrick Faison, a 28-year-old black man, snapped photos of the papers to post on his Facebook and My Space pages. "This is a very deep moment. It reflects what my grandmother and my great-grandmother didn't have the opportunity to see."

•Selma, Ala.: Robert Lawrence, 73, a retired pipefitter, wore an "I Voted" sticker on his hat. "What has happened really hasn't hit me yet," he said. "But I think we will be in better shape as a country. (Obama) winning shows we've come a long ways since what happened on that bridge."

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