Euphoria swept the nation. You could feel and see this epidemic of joy here -- in Harlem, Rockefeller Plaza and Times Square -- as thousands of people, young and old, cheered the man who had made history. They made history, too -- and they knew it.
Barack Obama, appearing before tens of thousands with his wife Michelle and their two little girls in Chicago's Grant Park, declared, ''If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.''
Over the centuries, New York has witnessed many great moments from George Washington's inauguration to the nearly hysterical welcomes for Charles Lindbergh, the World War II heroes, Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur and the astronauts.
But the scene here on Election Night was like no other. You could feel it in the air. You could see it in the happy faces. Near hysteria swept the crowds that chanted, '”Yes we did!' Crowds cheered as state after state was called for the freshman Illinois senator and people followed the map on giant screens.
In Rockefeller Center, you could see a rainbow of humanity -- and on this night of all nights, it seemed everyone was an historian. ''We made history,'' a young woman proudly told a reporter. Obama had so involved the American people that everyone was participating. Melissa Crooks, of Brooklyn, said, ''When I voted this morning, I left crying. I'm just happy that I was here during this time.'' Michelle Keilty, an African-American, said, ''I am choked up. I'm in tears. I just wish my mom was alive to see this.''
Obama would certainly relate to that feeling. His grandmother, the woman who raised him, died just a few days ago. A young law student from Greece who is at Columbia Law School, Angelos Dimopoulos, said, ''It's so good that America finally gave the right vote.'' A 24-year-old woman who runs an after-school program in Westchester, Jessica Starkman, said, ''I think it's huge.''
A journalist's job is to try to record history. I have never seen a moment when so many people were aware of history. The election of America's first Black president evokes so many memories, bitter and sweet: The violent struggle for civil rights in the sixties, the deaths of the young civil rights workers -- Goodman and Schwerner, of New York, Cheney, of Mississippi; the passage of the Civil Rights Act; the martyrdom of Martin Luther King; all part of the parade of history in our time.
The tributes that the victor and the vanquished paid to each other when the election results became clear were touching. With grace, John McCain said, ''Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country.'' And Obama, as he claimed victory, had warm words for his rival. ''Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine.''
America seems ready to unite behind a young man who can help us confront the crises of today and tomorrow -- and whose leadership promises to win us new friends throughout the world.