by Jeff Gralnick, NBC News Special Consultant
If it gets asked one more time today, we know we will all flinch, but it is true. Who would have believed that we would see a January 20th on which an African-American would be inaugurated as President of these United States?
Not me. Not this once-upon-a-time young field reporter for CBS News who, based in New Orleans in the early 1960s, experienced life in one of America's most hide bound and segregated cities. And from there I went out to cover what we were beginning to understand was a revolution.
Memories and datelines of the time in no particular order:
· Saint Augustine, Florida. Dr. King being arrested. His aide Andy Young being beaten to the ground at all four corners of the city's centerpiece--The Old Slave Market, which it was. 50 long days and nights in St. Augustine but out of it came something called The Voting Rights Act. It was a town where if the bartender didn't like your reporting, you didn't get a drink.
· Selma, Alabama. Dr. King again, this time fighting for those voting rights in one of the most benighted and scruffy towns in the Deep South. It was a place you didn't stay but drove out of each night hoping to reach the relative safety of Montgomery, Alabama.
· Jackson, Mississippi. The Jackson hospital late at night and the press scrum covering the arrival of three body bags containing the remains of three young men who had gone south to push for those voting rights.
· Bogalusa, Louisiana. Where, you might ask? Just some little lumber mining, paper manufacturing town in the heart of reddest neck Louisiana that James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (and who today remembers either?) had picked as a target for a voting rights march. The memory: Marchers outnumbered by Louisiana state cops, each armed with a Thompson submachine gun and the concern that if trouble came, who would they shoot first?
That was the south in the early '60s, or at least the part of it I saw and have had burned into the brain pan. And did anyone covering those stories ever think, no less believe, that in their lifetime they would see an African-American elected President? Not ever. The thought then that an African-American might achieve a House seat or somehow one in the Senate was so far-fetched as to be a non-topic.
So the emotion today? John Lewis, who was the very young firebrand for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee back in that day, probably said it best when he talked last night with Brian Williams. "It may be an out of body experience" he said as he teared up. I know it will be for me. Election night was a taste of what I know I am going to feel and experience right around noon today when 21 guns and Hail to the Chief announce that the change we never believed possible, was indeed.