Sunday, January 18, 2009

My birthplace turns blue for Obama

In the summer of 1959, Army corporal Frank Dellario took a train to his new posting at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. As he walked outside Fayetteville's train station onto Hay Street, the main artery through town, a banner dominated his view. The sign, which ran across Hay Street's four lane width, read "Ni**ger, don't let the sun set on your ass or you won't see it rise in the morning."

Frank Dellario is my father and I was born in Fayetteville. We moved out of the South after my father retired from the miitary when I was five years old, but I still recall the racism that lingered there. In those early years I thought the N-word was not pejorative, that it was the only term for people of color. I thought this despite the fact that my two best friends, Donny and his sister Chenelle, were black. In fact, I didn't realize my mistake until in kindergarden I referred to a black classmate by that ugly word, and he told our teacher. Back then, North Carolina had corporal punishment in schools, and my white teacher took me out into the hallway and beat my bottom with a ping-pong paddle. From that incident I learned the importance of words.

In 2008 I heard that Barack Obama was campaigning hard in North Carolina. Could my home state, which had been solidly Republican for years change color? Could a military area like that surrounding Fort Bragg vote Democratic? Could it turn out enough whites who would vote for a black man?

I waited days after the general election to find out these answers, but when the final results were tallied North Carolina was blue, 49.7 vs 49.38, a difference of just over 14000 votes but nevertheless striking. In Fayeteville's Cumberland county it was 58.55 percent, with 74,693 people there voting for a black man to be president.

On January 20, I hope another bannerr stretched across Hay Street, one celebrating our nation's first African American President.

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