Churches reflect on Obama election

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Jubilation, pride and relief permeated pews and pulpits at predominantly black churches across the country on the first Sunday after Barack Obama’s election, with congregrants blowing horns, waving American flags and raising their hands to the heavens.

“God has vindicated the black folk,” the Rev. Shirley Caesar-Williams said as a member of her Raleigh congregation, Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church, brandished a flag and another marched among the pews blowing a ram’s horn.

“Too long we’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole, but he has vindicated us, hallelujah,” the Grammy-winning gospel singer cried. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have nothing to put my head down for, praise God. Because when I look toward Washington, D.C., we got a new family coming in. We got a new family coming in. And you know what? They look like us. Amen, amen. They look like us.”

In the historically black New York City neighborhood of Harlem, Obama buttons and T-shirts were as prevalent in the pews as colorful plumed hats, while in a church in the former capital of the Confederacy, a young girl handled a newspaper with a photo of Obama and the headline, “Mr. President.”

At Los Angeles’ oldest black church, ushers circulated through the aisles with boxes of tissues as men and women, young and old, wept openly and unabashedly at the fall of the nation’s last great racial barrier.

And on the day that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously called “the most segregated day of the week,” black and white Christian clergy members asked God to give Obama the wisdom and strength to lead the country out of what many consider a wilderness of despair and gloom.

At Hungary Road Baptist Church in a working-class suburb of Richmond, Va., the service was part celebration, part history lesson, led by a pastor who had felt the sting of the Jim Crow South. The Rev. J. Rayfield Vines Jr., pastor of the predominantly black congregation, paused briefly as he recalled the indignities he endured but did not bow to while growing up in Suffolk, Va.

“I was there when you had to ride in the back of the bus,” Vines said under a simple cross illuminated by eight light bulbs. “I was there when you went to the department store and you couldn’t try on the clothes. I was there when they had a colored toilet and a white toilet.”

The pastor said he shared his humiliations Sunday to help give those “who had not tasted the bitterness of segregation.”

Inside Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, member Sheila Chestnut, 61, proudly wore a rhinestone Obama pin on her suit lapel.

“I am so happy,” she said. “I cried so much. I never thought that in this lifetime I would live to see an African-American become president of these United States.”

When the Rev. Calvin Butts invited the congregation to stand up “and give God praise for the election,” several hundred churchgoers rose as one, lifted their hands and gave a sustained cheer, then chanted, “Yes we can! Yes we can!”

At Apostolic Church of God on Chicago’s South Side, less than two miles from Obama’s home, jubilant Sunday services were peppered with references to the election and calls to be grateful for his victory.

“We thank the Lord for this second Sunday (in November) after the first Tuesday,” Byron Brazier said to resounding applause and cheers from the mostly black congregation. “This is a wonderful time to be alive.”