A Second First Time

At age 94, Rosa De Souza’s life has been a time capsule of America’s slow change toward equality. A retired Washington school principal, DeSouza said she missed her first two opportunities to vote for president of the United States, primarily because, she said, no one really emphasized to African Americans the power and privilege of voting. She has witnessed four American wars and marched the streets of Washington during the Civil Rights Movement. She was there outside the Lincoln Monument in 1963 when the Rev. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Fifteen years earlier, she cast her first presidential vote, for a Democratic candidate, Harry S. Truman.

She was 34.

She recalled that day as a defining moment for black Americans because Truman “had done so much for us as African Americans.” On Election Day 2008, De Souza said she knew she was living another key moment in her life. This time, she again cast a vote for a Democratic candidate – this time and for the first time in her life for an African American, Barack Obama. It was a vote for someone whom she said she believes will live up to his promises of improved education and other opportunities that she lacked in her youth.

As for this moment in time of voting for a black American, she said, “I never thought I see it.” Her small figure, hunched by a past fall, is filled with a quiet excitement and the hope that she lives to see what a President Obama will accomplish. “I expect everything that he has promised,” De Souza said.

Despite her back, De Souza refused to send in an absentee ballot. Instead, she chose to go to the polls, stand in line and vote. She said having a woman running as vice presidential candidate was also historical and a great feat for all women in the United States. De Souza wasn’t enthused, however, about Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Palin would not be the one she wanted running the country if John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, was unable to carry on as president, she said. “I perish the thought that she would be president,” she said. At her side in the lobby of their Northwest apartment building was her younger sister. But Laura Lewis, 89, decided she would send in an absentee ballot rather than stand in line to vote. DeSouza said she would be ecstatic in an Obama victory. “I will feel like America has moved up,” she said.