On November 4, 2008 an elderly man stood in line and waited for his turn to walk forward, ninety-two-year-old Samuel Powell stood under an umbrella as a light rain fell; the temperature was barely in the fifties.
Once he was inside a voice asked, “Name please.”
“Samuel Powell,” he replied.
“Do you need help with your ballot?” the voice asked.
“No,” Samuel replied.
He picked up his ballot and walked (without a cane) toward a booth. Once inside the booth he began to scan the names on the ballot – school board member, county commissioner, senator, governor. He saw the choices for president – Barack Hussein Obama or John McCain. Samuel could take pride in knowing that he had made it possible for Barack Obama’s name to be on the ballot – not as a third party candidate – but as a candidate from one of the major parties.
Samuel still remembers the sounds of Japanese fighter planes descending on his cruiser USS Helena. He also remembers the sound of the frantic voice over his ship’s 1MCs (intercom systems) shouting, "General Quarters, general quarters. This is not a drill, this is not a drill, all hands man your battle stations!" It was December 7, 1941 and the 22-year-old African American farm boy from Eastern North Carolina, Steward First Class Samuel Powell was a crewmember on Helena and he and his shipmates had to respond to the “general quarters.” They were in Pearl Harbor Hawaii and they were under attack. On that day Samuel’s past shaped Obama’s destiny and became Barack Obama’s future.
In 1941 America was thrust into a war against Nazism, Imperialism and Fascism but for the 1.2 million black Americans such as Samuel there was a greater battle they had to fight – first for the right to fight as they were not welcomed or wanted – and as Americans against the Axis powers that threatened their country.
African American military members who were invisible (unseen, ignored and unnoticed) warriors worked in kitchens, cooked meals for fellow service members, became stevedores and loaded and unloaded ships, or became truck drivers or grave diggers – a few became fighter pilots, at least one Army unit helped liberate a concentration camp, and many other African Americans demonstrated extraordinary courage against the enemy.
Black service members, including my much older brother Samuel, proved they were Americans first even though they did not enjoy the freedoms they were defending. In 1941 African Americans would not have been able to vote in most southern states – yet the greatest black generation’s service to America paved the way for Barack Obama to become president.
I am a baby boomer and my generation which includes President Barack Obama, stands on the shoulders of Samuel, and the rest of the invisible warriors from World War II. My brother is very humble about his role in making it possible for a black man to become president. I constantly thank him and other World War II veterans I meet for their service. Who Samuel voted for is his business – What is important is that the men and women of his generation who were born before the 1965 voting rights act was passed helped make it possible for an African American to become the leader of the free nation – the archaic ideas and beliefs about race are being swept away thanks to them.
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED