In grocery stores, schools, offices, churches, on front steps everywhere, there is a collective breath being held that — depending on the outcome — awaits a giant exhalation tomorrow night. For many African-Americans who never thought they would see one of their own as president in their lifetime, exhaling will most likely be accompanied by more than a few tears.

With Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE ahead of John McCain by a comfortable margin, any McCain upset would undoubtedly by perceived by a goodly number of passionate Obama partisans who watched Al Gore lose the White House in 2000 as a stolen election. But for anxious, hopeful African-Americans — particularly those over the age of 45 — that feeling would likely run deeper.

Paul Durr of Tennessee voted early for Obama last week and was literally jumping up and down in line with excitement. Durr was quoted this weekend in an Associated Press story saying he couldn't imagine the consequences of Obama losing. "He has to win. If he doesn't, I think you'll see this country — I'm afraid to say what I think would happen the next day. I don't even want to think that way."

Donna Britt, a former Washington Post columnist, wrote there this weekend that an Obama victory calls for rejoicing among all Americans. She argues the change to celebrate has likely already occurred and that African-Americans — and the country as a whole — should "allow ourselves a brief celebration of now."

Britt says Americans on either side of the race divide must recognize the accomplishment of this change. "Even the most optimistic black folks doubted America was capable of this. Being happily surprised by your neighbors' openheartedness is a good thing. It lifts everybody — and we need to be buoyed as the nation wades into waters this unfamiliar."

As I said when Obama won his party's nomination, we must all — amid recession, two wars and so many other problems — recognize the historic import of another ceiling broken. Among his supporters there will be exultation and, in some cases, euphoria. We are not all supporting Obama for president, but those who oppose his policies can still celebrate that his victory will likely bring a certain healing our country has needed for so long.

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