Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In historically black neighborhoods, a new chapter in nation's history - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
In historically black neighborhoods, a new chapter in nation's history
African-Americans say Obama's election as president brings hope for the future

by Robert Dongu | Staff Writer

President-elect Barack Obama wrote a new chapter in American history with his Election Day victory. Charlotte Coffield, 75, remembers what the book used to look like.

Coffield lives in the historically black Lyttonsville neighborhood in west Silver Spring, founded Jan. 3, 1853, when Samuel Lytton, a freed slave, received a parcel of land from a white landowner. A member of the Lyttonsville Civic Association, Coffield grew up in the community and attended a segregated school near Brookville Road. She had the same teacher from first to seventh grade. Her outdated, hand-me-down school books were donated by white schools.

"They had writing in them," Coffield said. "Some pages were missing. … Through that all that we were able to learn."

Coffield thought of past generations of her family when Obama was elected first African-American president in U.S. history.

"I was just elated," said Coffield, whose late sister Gwendolyn has a community center in Silver Spring named in her honor. "You start thinking what if my parents and grandparents were still living – what would they be thinking? How would they feel?"

Wheaton community activist Marian Fryer, 75, said she cried when she heard Obama had won.

"I have seen a lot of things in this county that have made me very sad," said Fryer, president of the Wheaton Citizens Coalition. "Today is a new day."

Guitele Lanoix, director of recreation for the Club Rec program at the Good Hope Community Center in Silver Spring, drove to her hometown of Middletown, N.Y., to vote for Obama and spend Election Day with her family.

Lanoix, a 2006 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, said Obama's victory gave her goose bumps.

"I never thought I would see it," she said.

Roland Dawes, a resident of Takoma Park for 77 years, has owned a barber shop there since 1986. He said the election has brought joy to customers at his shop.

"I've never seen so many smiles," said Dawes the grandfather of gymnast Dominique Dawes, an Olympic medalist who was the first African-American to medal in an individual gymnastics event.

After attending the segregated schools, Roland Dawes enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served as a truck driver and cook. Following his service, he worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District and then became an entrepreneur.

Dawes, 80, said he thinks Obama will be a "fine president."

"All I look forward to is the future," he said.

Willie Smith, a 75-year-old Silver Spring resident who volunteers at the Gwendolyn Coffield Community Center, scrambled to call people after hearing that Obama had won. Although the lines were busy, she was finally able to contact her daughter.

"I think [Obama's victory] gives other black Americans hope that anything is possible," Smith said.

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