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July 23, 2014

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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION:

HISTORY HITS HOME AS OBAMA ACCEPTS

In Vegas, cheers rise, tears fall for first black nominee

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Leila Navidi

Nevada delegate Gibran Baydoun watches as Barack Obama gives his acceptance speech.

Obama's moment

A Nevada delegate holds his hat at Mile HIgh Stadium in downtown Denver Thursday before Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Launch slideshow »

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Obama accepts nomination

For its strident politics and passion and the history of the moment, Sen. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday enthralls his supporters at an overflowing — and tearful — TV watching party and brings deep satisfaction to a veteran civil rights activist and her niece watching quietly in their living room.

In one part of town, past the line of cars, the sign-up sheet and the buffet table of chicken wings, egg rolls, pizza and dessert, Assemblyman Harvey Munford, sitting on a bar stool, is taking it all in. More than 50 people are packed in.

Everyone — black, white, Hispanic and Asian — is glued to the big-screen TV. Joe Neal, the first African-American elected to the state Senate, is reclining in an easy chair. “I wonder what McCain is thinking right now,” he says, laughing.

The crowd, synced with the one in Denver, claps in unison.

“Yes we can,” Glynda White, a law professor at College of Southern Nevada, shouts.

As Obama formally accepts the Democratic nomination, his line is interrupted by a man standing off to the side. “Say it!” Obama finishes: “I accept ...” and he’s drowned out by cheering.

As Obama ticks through the stories of the downtrodden he’s met on the campaign trail, people chime in with choruses of acclamation: “Uh huh.”

When Obama says it’s not that McCain doesn’t care, it’s that he just doesn’t know, everyone here laughs and applauds. When Obama calls for change, everyone echoes him with chants: “Change! Change!”

Munford says he is thinking about the students he taught government to at Bonanza High School for 15 years. “No one ever thought this moment would occur,” he says.

Obama says he knows he doesn’t fit the “typical pedigree” for president. Neal chuckles and nods his head. Obama says something has stirred in the electorate, that this election has never been about him, it’s been about the people. Neal mists up.

Obama harks back to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the march on Washington.

“Oh yeah,” a woman shouts. “That was it,” another says.

Obama: “America, we can’t turn back.”

He gets a standing ovation in Munford’s living room.

“It’s on,” someone shouts.

Neal is crying now.

“To see this come to fruition in my lifetime is overwhelming,” he says, wiping away tears. “It’s beyond belief.”

A few blocks away, 76-year-old Ruby Duncan and her niece watch the speech in an apartment living room filled with plaques and proclamations attesting to Duncan’s own life as an activist.

At the very moment Obama walks onto the stage, Duncan looks to the ceiling and releases a joyous laugh.

“I’m so happy to see this in my lifetime!” she says. Overton agrees: “If I go tomorrow, I can say honestly I’d be happy.”

In Denver, Obama tells the applauding audience, “Thank you!”

“No, thank you,” Duncan replies to the TV screen. “Thank you for having the strength. They done put him through everything but a jar of peanut butter.”

Into the speech, Duncan gets a call from one of her seven children, Ronnie in Baton Rouge, La., to make sure she’s watching.

And of course she is.

She was invited to the convention, but turned it down for fear she wouldn’t be able to easily get around.

“But I was a delegate for Carter and I went to everyone after that that I could,” she says.

Now she is glowing in the moment, ebullient, shouting “Right on!” and applauding throughout Obama’s speech. “Tell them!” she tells Obama. “Tell them!”

By speech’s end, Duncan is grinning ear to ear.

“You did all right, my child,” she says to Obama. “I got it. I got it.”

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