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Blacks see validation in historic outcome

President Obama’s re-election – in a ferocious campaign dotted by charges of racial anger and minority-voter suppression – has provided what many blacks say will surely deepen his legacy: irrefutable evidence that his presidency is hardly a historical fluke as he has now won two national campaigns with overwhelming white support.

Obama, the nation’s first black president, was already soaked in history, a figure seen in the aftermath of his 2008 victory as the culmination of a decades-long civil rights crusade that suffered the assassination of beloved figures who fought and marched for the right to vote and freely pursue the American dream.

But Obama’s first term as president also saw him pelted with racially charged denunciations – some from politicians – that reopened festering wounds and even fears in the African American community for his safety. At times it felt as if the W.E.B. Du Bois prophecy – the problem of the 20th century would be the color line, he famously opined – had leapt right into the 21st century.

“In many ways,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “Obama’s re-election can be seen as resilience on the part of the African American community.”

But Bunch admitted that he felt, as did many blacks in the waning weeks of the campaign, that Obama – despite accomplishments in the war on terrorism, a strengthening economy and passage of a universal-health care law – had been mercilessly castigated.

“You want to hope it’s a smaller minority with that real racial hatred,” he said. “You see the vitriolic comments, and you realize the first election of Obama didn’t change the pain and hatred. In some ways, that election magnified some of it.”

He added: “It is not a post-racial world, but a world that would make us believe in the possibility of bringing people together.”

Throughout the important swing state of Ohio, black ministers had rallied their flocks Sunday from pulpits, linking the president’s name with biblical figures who had fought unflinchingly against long, hard odds. Then those ministers led their flocks to waiting buses, which took them to early-voting sites.

Mayor Michael Coleman, of Columbus, Ohio – one of the first big-city mayors to support Obama’s daring 2008 campaign – said the re-election was crucial for the psyche of black America.

“I think, in some ways, it was more important than the first election,” he said. “There may be some in the country who might have said the first race he won was because of timing – that Obama was in the right place and the country was in such a bad place after Bush. So if he had lost, some would just say the first time was a mirage.”

Coleman, echoing the sentiments of many blacks, said he was stung by the racially tinged attacks against the president during the campaign. On the eve of the election, Coleman presided over a voter rally at the King Arts Complex in Columbus.

“Someone there said, ‘I am tired of them disrespecting my president!’ The roof almost came down.”

Coleman – the first black elected mayor in the Ohio capital – also sensed a new start for the nation with the Obama win.

“I think this represents the beginning of a new era in America,” he said. “It will be focused on merit, truth-telling and having a moral center. All those were things that Mitt Romney never quite got.”

Obama’s victory meant a great deal to veterans of the civil rights movement. “I am completely exhilarated,” said Margaret Burnham, a law professor at Northeastern University.