Bishop Dr. Willie G. Alexander, 72, walked out of the polling station at Public School 224 in Brooklyn and lifted his arms in triumph.

“I feel great,” said Alexander, fresh from casting his vote for Barack Obama. “This time I thought would never come. This is truly a historic day.”

For many black New Yorkers, the opportunity to vote for a black presidential candidate is a historic event similar in importance to the civil rights movement. While Alexander thought he’d never see the day, voters across the city shared the sentiment.

Changing Times

Outside P.S. 175 in Harlem the line of voters stretched around the block. Jeff Greenup, 89, drew a direct parallel between enthusiasm for Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. – only in the 1960s, he said, black people were harassed and beaten trying to exercise their civic right. “I see things happening today I never expected to see,” he said. “It’s a tremendous step toward healing the racial divide.”

Other Harlem voters were cautious in their appraisal of Obama, and said that winning the election would just be the first step towards change. “There will be a change in perception of people who may be different from you,” said Dr. James Bradley, who had waited in line to vote for over two hours. He hastened to add: “I don’t think change will come as rapidly as some people think it will, because old habits don’t die fast,”

Back in Brooklyn, Aminisha Black, 68, originally from South Carolina arrived at 7 a.m. to cast her vote. “I’ve gone through the black power movement, the nationalist movement, the movement where we documented every possible wrong that whites ever did to blacks,” she said. “What I’ve come to realize is that we’re all in this together.”

With only hours left until the curtain falls on the historic presidential race, Bishop Alexander reflected on how far black politics has come: “Shirley Chisholm marked the way,” he said. “She planted the seed then Jesse Jackson watered it. Al Sharpton came along and fertilized it. Now Obama is the reaper of their work.”