(T-G Photo by John Philleo)
Donna Phillips, a supporter of President-elect Obama, attended an Obama Victory Party at The Fly, and she says the moment he was declared winner was mesmerizing.
"The band kicked up the music, people cheered and danced. I was very moved by it," said a tearful Phillips this morning. "My brother, who's 39, was sitting next to me in silence with his hand over his mouth with tears in his eyes. He looked at me and said, 'Never in my lifetime.' "
Diane Floyd, another local supporter of Obama, organized the local victory party, which had a huge turnout, and she agreed the night was momentous.
"I'm so pleased so many Bedford County people came out to celebrate," Floyd said. "I felt it was important for everyone to have an outlet to celebrate ... Barack Obama has energized this country, and the citizens of Bedford County ... He has inspired everyone to pitch in and work for our country and not just sit back and complain."
Even local folks, like local Republican party chairman David Evans, agreed that Obama had inspired citizens from coast to coast.
"It was an exciting night," Evans said. "Of course, from a conservative standpoint I was disappointed, but overall, this was the most exciting election in decades ... This was a long, hard-fought battle."
Evans said he was proud of the conservative stand Tennesseans and other Southern states took in this election, with most of the southern states remaining red after last night's election.
In Bedford County, Republican Sen. John McCain received 65.78 percent of the vote, with Obama earning 32.36 percent. In the U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander held onto his seat, earning 70 percent of the vote against Democrat Robert Tuke.
Total voter turnout was up compared to the last two presidential elections, although not by as huge a margin as the record-shattering early voting turnout had suggested. The total voter turnout -- early plus election day -- was 15,759, as compared to 13,622 in the 2004 presidential election and 13,144 in 2000.
"I told people, even if we don't take the state, we have a stake in this election," said Phillips, who said local Obama campaigners were making calls up until polls closed in key battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, which helped carry Obama to a decisive victory last night.
Local democratic party chair Connie Crafton, was also ecstatic with local efforts, despite McCain winning Tennessee. Crafton said the local Obama group had registered more than 1,500 new Bedford County voters.
"History was made last night," Crafton said. "Even though Obama did not carry Bedford County and the state of Tennessee, Democrats came out in force to vote for this election ... I think that the number of people who voted shows that Americans are ready for a change ... I am thrilled about the Obama/Biden team. I think they can turn this country around."
Around the country
Jubilation stretched into the early morning today in Washington, D.C., and a large crowd paraded on Pennsylvania Avenue with drums, balloons and a life-size cutout of Obama.
By 4 a.m., a few young revelers lingered among the reviewing stands being built for January's presidential inauguration.
"I heard that he won and I instinctively came here," said Hollis Gentry, 45, who lives about six blocks away. "I came down here to make a prayer... that we'll be able to change the nation and the world."
In Philadelphia, thousands of blacks and whites converged at City Hall shortly after Obama was declared the winner. Under a light rain, they danced to the music blaring from car radios. Drivers stopped in the middle of the street, opened their car doors and broadcast Obama's acceptance speech.
"Barack is in the house!" shouted Pamela Williams, 46. "This is very important to me. Change is about to happen."
The celebrations were both large big and small, but the sentiment was the same -- pure joy over how far the country has come. People honked horns, high-fived each other and embraced.
"I was born in the civil rights time. To see this happening is unbelievable. We've got the first black president. A black president!" said Mike Louis, a 53-year-old black man who got teary-eyed as he watched the election results on a giant video board in Cincinnati's Fountain Square. "It's not cured now, but this is a step to curing this country of racism. This is a big, giant step toward getting this country together."
The roar of thousands of people gathered in a plaza near the legendary Apollo Theater in New York City's Harlem neighborhood could be heard blocks away.
In Cleveland, supporters gathered at a house party and held champagne flutes above their heads for a toast. "To the first African-American president in the history of the United States!" they shouted.
In Chicago, Obama's hometown, an estimated 125,000 people gathered on an unusually warm November night to greet the senator at a delirious victory rally at Grant Park.
"It's fantastic," said Hulon Johnson, 71, a retired Chicago public school principal. "I've always told my kids this was possible; now they'll have to believe me."
LaKeisha Williams, a 27-year-old laid-off school nurse, who watched Obama's victory on a TV in a downtown Kansas City concert hall, said: "People actually have finally come together and realized that no matter what his race is, he was the right person for the job. I think it was destiny for him to win. But now we still have to come together to make sure things work."
In Miami's predominantly black Liberty City neighborhood, Otoria Pitts, 30, suggested the significance of Obama's victory goes beyond race.
"His election speaks volumes for a bunch of people," she said. "Children of single mothers, people who put themselves through college. It says, you can do it, you can do it."
Joined by her sister, Susan, and niece, Akira, the three women bought a few rockets from a fireworks stand and lit up the night sky with color.
On the other side of the country, others were thinking how Obama's election could change their lives.
"I'm ecstatic," said Jason Samm, a 33-year-old business owner who was celebrating in South Los Angeles. "I have three kids, which means a lot of doors opening up for them."
Obama's victory also brought back memories of hard-fought battles of generations past.
At Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero, said he was hardly able to believe that 40 years after he was left beaten and bloody on an Alabama bridge as he marched for the right for blacks to vote, he had cast a ballot for Obama.
"This is a great night," he said. "It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving."
As the news of a projected Obama victory flashed across a TV screen, men in the nearly all-black crowd pumped their fists and bowed their heads. Women wept and embraced their children. Screams of "Thank you, Lord!" were heard throughout the sanctuary.
Surveying the scene, Mattie Bridgewater whispered from her seat, "I just can't believe it. Not in my lifetime."
Bridgewater said she went to the same elementary school as Emmett Till, the boy from Chicago whose murder in Mississippi was one of the catalysts of the civil rights movement. Both she and her 92-year-old mother voted for Obama.
"I'm sitting here in awe," she said. "This is a moment in history that I just thank my God I was allowed to live long enough to see. Now, when I tell my students they can be anything they want to be, that includes president of the United States."
-- Associated Press reports contributed to this story.