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02/09/2009

Dateline: Elkhart, IN

  Yes, there were a few vendors hawking what I call "Obama-bilia" at President Barack Obama's first Presidential trip. They had the T-shirts, buttons and other silkscreened, photoshopped mementos heralding the election of this country's first African-American President.

  But the sellers were ignored by the mostly white, working class crowd that packed the Concord High School gymnasium in Elkhart, Indiana Monday. They had come out to hear what the newly-elected President was going to do about the horrific unemployment in this part of the Hoosier state. During the past year, the double whammy of high fuel prices and tight credit has decimated Northeast Indiana's recreational vehicle industry. Joblessness has skyrocketed from 4.7 per cent in early 2008 to nearly 16 per cent in January of this year. And keep in mind that this is hard core conservative Republican territory. Obama lost Elkhart County to John McCain by some 60,000 votes out of about 700,000 cast.

  So this was an astonishing day for many of us who have wondered, worried and written about race relations in America for the past 50 years. Here we stood in one of the Ku Klux Klan "charter" states watching white folks who could not care less about skin color. All they saw was the President of the United States offering a chance for them to recover their piece of the American dream, that during the past eight years had become nights of sleepless worry about lost jobs, unpaid bills and foreclosure.

  The two or three thousand people at the Concord High gym were in some ways a miniature version of the diverse throng in Washington last month at Obama's inauguration; more of the living proof that while race remains an issue in America, clearly, its no longer THE issue.

   Not even in Elkhart, Indiana.

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