For many, a sense that a new era is here

That bridge was the Edmund Pettus. There, on a Sunday in March 1965, about 600 civil rights marchers were attacked by state troopers and county sheriff's deputies, who tear gassed and pummeled them with clubs. Scenes of the day, broadcast around the world, helped inspire Congress' passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Debra Reeves-Howard, 47, of Selma, a job developer for the Selma Career Center, went to the bridge Wednesday and considered both the past and future.

"In 1968 Robert Kennedy said that in 40 years we could have a black president," she said. "I've been ready for a black president since then. I had to believe that we would get there some day. I think Obama is a different caliber of person, you can see it in his face. You can see the kind of change he wants to bring to the country."

•Detroit: The West Side corner where the nation's worst race riot began in 1967 has nothing to mark the 43 people who were killed. There's only a vacant lot, several abandoned store fronts, and a small park where a man slept on a bench Wednesday. Many of the area's brick homes had an Obama sign on the lawn.

Miiko Baldwin, 26, a single mother of two and criminal justice student, basked in Obama's victory. She also sported an "I voted" sticker on her jacket — "to let people know I helped contribute to getting my man in office."

For all the celebration, however, African Americans in Detroit brought a hefty dose of realism to Obama's chances of making the great changes he promised on the campaign trail.

In a city where one-third of the population lives at or below the poverty level, Detroiters such as Lynda Reynolds, 43, and Joe Wooten, 33, said their city's problems, along with the nation's current economic crisis, took a long time to develop and will take a long time to overcome.

"It's not like we wake up in the morning and suddenly things are better," said Reynolds, a social worker.

•Chicago: The old brick rectory where Obama worked as a community organizer in the 1980s is vacant, but memories of his time there echoed Wednesday in the Roseland section. The drugstore was sold out of newspapers by 7:30 a.m.

"The whole neighborhood is ecstatic," said Mary Young, 52, a preschool teacher. "I feel like he's my brother."

Young said she wept when Obama won, but on Wednesday she focused on what the president-elect might do.

"I'm hoping and praying that we'll have more jobs open," she said. "I'm hoping and praying that mothers will be able to send their children to college. I'm hoping and praying the gangs will even get off the streets."

•Atlanta: At the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said he was hardly able to believe that more than 40 years after he was left beaten and bloody on the Pettus bridge, he had voted for a victorious Obama.

"It is a night of thanksgiving," Lewis said.

For all its spiritual uplift, Obama's victory did not change some sobering facts.

Fewer than 4% of America's elected officials are black, and the vast majority of them represent districts that are predominantly non-white. One-quarter of blacks are poor, compared with about 8% of whites.

Obama's win reflected profound demographic changes in the USA.

Minorities now account for about one-third of the population; in a few decades the United States is expected to become "majority-minority," because no racial group — including non-Hispanic whites — will be more than 50% of the population.

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