While official tracking events around Charlotte focused on the TV, this presidential watch party was more like a, well, party. The Historic Excelsior Club on Tuesday night lived up to its reputation as a social and political meeting place for African Americans.
The televisions (tuned to MSNBC) acted as background noise, with some in the standing-room crowd leaning in close to hear results slowly trickle in but most heading to the dance floor or moving in place as Fly Ty of 105.3 played the classics. When the Al Green staple “Let’s Stay Together” filled the air, some of the patrons tried to sing a few notes, though none matched President Obama’s own sampling of a few bars.
Four years ago, election night at the Excelsior was a scene of exhilaration and excitement. America elected its first black president, and the club’s owner, civil rights attorney James Ferguson II, paid tribute to pioneering politicians — from Harvey Gantt to Congressman Mel Watt - who had come to share the moment.
This time around, the club watched early results with anxious confidence. Vindication spread over the crowd when the president’s second-term victory was called. “That’s the beauty of it,” Ferguson told me. “Before long, a lot of the haters are going to come around and admit that an African-American president can serve two terms and do a great job.”
There was a feeling in the room that President Barack Obama might finally get the respect he has earned.
“It’s a great thing to celebrate for the second time,” Fly Ty said during a break. “As much as we advance, racism is still out there,” he said, citing the obstruction that met Obama’s attempts at bipartisanship. “It’s very sad in this day and time.” He predicted a “no-holds-barred” second term. The president, he said, “is going to go all out and make an impact.”
Francis Pendergrass, 57, of Charlotte, called Obama “a man of character. He cares about people.” He dismissed the talk before the election that the president’s support of same-sex marriage would cost him the votes of black religious conservatives. “I don’t want to tell people what they can do.”
Local and state officials who won their races stopped in, and Mayor Pro Tem and city councilman Pat Cannon gave regular updates to the crowd. While he celebrated Obama’s win, N.C. Rep. Rodney Moore lamented the “trifecta” that put Republican Pat McCrory in the governor’s seat and retained GOP majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill passed last session that would enact voter-ID legislation in North Carolina, and Moore said if Republicans resurrect it, “We’re going to block it, even if we have to go to court to do it.”
But before the political fights begin, Tuesday night at the Excelsior was a chance to, as the Kool & the Gang song rang out, “Celebrate.” Earnestine Kasey of Charlotte said, “I am feeling so much joy.” Kasey, 55, who lost her job, said she plans to go back to school and open up her own business in interior design and insurance (“I can decorate your home and insure it”). She’s positive, though, and “so glad to be in his history.”
That’s Obama’s history.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte-based journalist, is a contributor to The Washington Post's “She the People” blog, The Root and theGrio. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 a.m. on Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter