MY FAMILY STILL TEASES me that when the newly elected president of the United States called, I was on an outing with friends. Well, who knew? I go out all the time, even if I am over one hundred years old. I have many friends and social obligations, and I enjoy them all.
If someone had phoned ahead of time to tell me that Barack Obama was going to call, I would have stayed home. Probably. Sometimes, though, there are commitments you can’t get out of; you don’t want to disappoint people. But as it was, the call was a complete surprise. My friend James Davis and I arrived back after a couple of hours out, and there was this lovely message on my machine from the presidential candidate—a long one, too! He said he had seen the story about me voting for him on CNN, and he wanted to thank me. That was nice. You could have knocked me over, I was so tickled.
As I said, I didn’t think all that much of all the fuss about me going out to vote. Of course, my grandchildren and friends urged me to vote by mail, ahead of time. But I wasn’t interested in that. Oh no! After all we’d been through as a people, if there was a black man who was a good candidate and he needed my vote, I was going to be there. I have been a registered voter since 1940, but this time—sixty-eight year later—I wanted to walk into that little booth and pull the curtain around me and vote. In person. For Barack Obama.
So that’s exactly what I did. I put on my coral pink suit and my good-luck gold charm bracelet—the charms include numbers of my age from ninety-nine on up, and some lovely ones that mark my grandchildren’s births. Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who has been a friend for several years, came to meet me at the Fulton County Government Center, where the early voting was being held. She’d offered to meet me there to show her support that someone as old as me was determined to do her civic duty. I thought it was lovely of her to take the time to do that. There was also a handsome young newsman, an anchor person for CNN named Don Lemon, who guided my wheelchair into the polling site. (I like being escorted by handsome young men—always have.) I was surprised to see reporters and television crews from around Atlanta waiting with their cameras and recorders poised, all of them there just to watch me vote.
The voting process was “high tech,” as my great grandchildren like to say. You just put your finger on a computer screen and touch the name of the candidate you want to elect. Casting my vote took only a minute, but it was an important one for me, my people, and my country.
After the story came out about Senator Obama calling and leaving me a message (I still have it), a few more reporters called and asked for an interview. I stayed quite busy for several weeks before election night.
On the evening of November 4, 2008, I watched with my family and friends as the nation elected its first black president. Around ten o’clock on election night the phone rang. It was someone from the president-elect’s office. Mr. Obama had asked him to call me and let me know that Mr. Obama was going to use my name in his speech in an hour or so and ask if it was okay
with me. My answer was “Yes, of course!” I had the gentleman speak with Katrinka, my caregiver, and with my friend Sally, and we began passing the word around to as many friends and family we could reach on such short notice. And when President-elect Obama came onstage with his beautiful wife and their two pretty little girls to address all those people gathered in Grant Park, in Chicago, I was so proud. And then he made the speech:
WELL, WE ALL WERE so tickled we opened a bottle of champagne to toast the new president. I think we were laughing and crying at the same time, because none of us thought this would happen in our lifetimes. So the fact that it had happened—that there seemed to be such joy in so much of the nation that we were starting fresh again—was a big part of our happiness. I went to bed a little while after and thought, Well, that’s that. Now we’re on our way.
Little did I know what the president-elect had started for me! My phone began to ring off the hook; it started while I was still in bed, continued all day and sometimes into the night, after I’d gone up to bed. The answering machine stayed so busy, I thought we might have to buy a new one! All of a sudden, everyone wanted to talk to me—Ann Louise Nixon Cooper. It was nice that they were interested, I guess. But I wasn’t so thrilled that media and ordinary folk were acting as if the only exciting thing I’d ever done was vote for a black man for president.
Don’t get me wrong, now. That was plenty exciting. But I’d had a life before CNN and the rest “discovered” me.
© 2010 Ann Nixon Cooper
Excerpted from A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name by Ann Nixon Cooper
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.