Like most African Americans born before the Civil Rights Era, I smiled as I shed a tear or two Tuesday night watching history roll over what once was considered an impenetrable racial barrier.

Nearly seven hours after Sen. Barack Obama was officially declared the president-elect, I still felt joy in the morning – and in my soul – realizing that Dr. Martin Luther King indeed was a blessed prophet. We finally have overcome, at least on that issue. Now, my sons can say to their children what my parents couldn’t say to me: Yes, you can dream of becoming president of the United States.

I believe the country will profit from its decision to recognize Obama’s potential and embrace his call for unity and the pursuit of high ideals, something we – as a nation – failed to do during my formative years.

As a youngster growing up in the segregated South, I never understood how white people, claiming to be Christians, could seem so normal yet be so hateful toward blacks. By law, the races attended separate churches; were buried in separate cemeteries, yet expected to have a soulful reunion in a heaven created by a loving and just God. How sensible is it to expect to be soul mates with someone in heaven when you loathed them on earth?

As a youngster growing up in an education-oriented world, I also was dismayed to discover that the South maintained its ‘No Negroes allowed’ barriers at Duke, Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and its other major institutions of higher learning even if the Negro showed extraordinary intellectual gifts. Which meant, of course, that even if a person of color had the potential to build a better mousetrap or find a cure for cancer, white educators wouldn’t provide them with an opportunity to be the best that he or she could be.

Times have changed for the better since my youthful days but this year’s race for the White House showed that the ugliness of racism lingers. Let us focus, however, on clinging to the wings of our higher angels and vow to soar above the divisiveness and sordidness offered by our lesser angels. President-elect Obama has demonstrated the intellect, talent, toughness, sensitivity and determination to lead this nation to a far better place. I pray that most of us will pitch in.