Detroiters Literally Dancing In The Streets For America’s First Black President

DETROIT – Martina Guzman, FI2W reporter

Detroiters cheered in bars, honked their horns and literally danced in the streets when Barack Obama became the president-elect.

Detroit is considered a black city: the population is more than eighty percent African American. It has had a black mayor for decades, black City Council members and elected officials. But as a veteran of multiple presidential and local campaigns, I have never seen an outpouring of joy over an election like I saw last night — there’s no precedent to compare it to.

This was not the kind of celebration that takes place after a major sports victory. And it was nothing like the usual party after winning an electoral race. This time, people in bars sobbed openly as Obama spoke to the nation. At the Park Bar, one of Detroit’s newest hangouts, no one was allowed to talk while Obama gave his speech — and no one did. People sat in silence, beaming, listening to every word he said.

“Oh my God, what a great country we live in,” said 42-year-old Louis Aguilar after Obama’s victory speech. Aguilar was one of the thousands of people who came out last night to watch the results roll in.

As the states turned blue, a trickle of cars honking their horns turned quickly into a midnight parade.

People poured onto Woodward Avenue, the main drag in downtown Detroit and hugged each other, cried and waved Barack Obama signs.

A group of youngsters in their twenties parked their car on the corner of a busy intersection, blasted some music and started dancing. Some people cheered and others joined them. [You can watch a video of the celebrations here.]

“This is history,” said 69-year-old Dorothy Jones. “I was this excited when Kennedy won.”

I wasn’t born when Kennedy became president or was assassinated. I have no recollection of the social movements of the 1960’s. But the sixties were alive last night.

Barack Obama’s win was a vindication for almost everyone of that generation who had fought for racial equality and rejected the war in Vietnam.

Vietnam veterans gathered in a local watering hole and talked about past elections. They sat nervously at the bar and tried not to get excited. They said the 2004 presidential election was a huge disappointment and they didn’t want to get their hopes up again this time.

“Look at what happened to Kerry, he was a Vietnam vet who went up and down on a river, got shot at for this country… Then losing the way he did, that broke my heart,” said one veteran who went by the name Tattoo.

But the veterans were hopeful: they had champagne on ice just in case Obama won.

Native Detroiter Eric McMahon flew in from Amsterdam to cast his vote in person. He has been living abroad for eight years and usually votes absentee. But this year he wanted to be present for a historic election.

“I can’t imagine not being here,” McMahon said.

AboutMartina Guzman
Martina Guzmán is a former Feet in 2 Worlds reporter. She has for the past 15 years specialized in creative production with an emphasis on stories by and about Latino communities. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Communication from Madonna University, an A.A. in Photography from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit; and a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. She currently works as a feature reporter for WDET, the NPR affiliate in Detroit, Michigan.