Small Moments Writ Large

ABC News' Andy Fies reports: In the closing days of the campaign, Barack Obama returned to the huge crowds that were his hallmark starting with the New Hampshire primary.  A hundred thousand turned out for rallies in St. Louis and Denver.  More than 90,000 waited hours for his last speech of the campaign in Manassas, VA.

While these massive spectacles of political theatre frequently reminded us of the history-making nature of his campaign, a small routine was for me an almost equally powerful reminder of that aspect of Obama's quest for the presidency.

I noticed it occasionally during the primaries:  It was the two or three times a day when Obama would get off his plane.

Seen through a certain prism of age and origin, this unremarkable and routine act can leave an indelible impression. 

The young black man who would be President of the United States walks down the steps of his plane, onto the tarmac and into a waiting car.  All around him --.holding open his door, loading bags, watching out for his safety, looking for ways to serve him -- are white men.   Many of them are uniformed state troopers who will line up at attention to shake his hand when they escort him back to the plane.Click the shutter.

Compare the image you now have in your mind to any memorable image of this country’s most enduring social conflict:  The frightened black girl on her way to school in 1957 Little Rock, a crowd of hate-twisted white faces behind her.  Click.  Young black protesters pinned against a Birmingham building in 1963 by firehose spray.  Click.  Think of any depiction of segregation showing white privilege and black servitude.  Click.

Now you may have a sense of how striking it is to see this little routine of historic change play out. And on the night when Obama accepted his party's nomination back in August, it wasn't the big speech and the big crowd that left the most lasting impression.  For some, it might have been when he finished.  At that point, his wife and children -- those who might become this still very white country's First Family -- joined him at centerstage.  A black family perhaps destined for the White House.  (A scene that may repeat itself tonight).

The crowd roared its approval and cameras flashed everywhere, capturing in a split second a sharp contrast to years of very different pictures.

(Photo by ABC News' Ferdous Al-Faruque)

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