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Local woman remembers the way things were

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By Alice Du Pont

Emma Farmer has stayed up many nights during her lifetime waiting for news about one thing or another. Sometimes the news was good and at other times it was bad.

But on the night newly-inaugurated Barack Obama won the presidency, Farmer went to bed. The event occurred eight weeks before her 98th birthday, and she knew she’d voted for him and that her staying up wouldn’t change the outcome – she could wait a few hours to see who the next president would be.

"The next morning, my grandson Antonio called me and said, 'Grandma, we have a black president!' and all I could say was thank you Jesus," she said Tuesday afternoon as she watched the new president and inaugural parade on television.

While she watched, she remembered a lot about growing up in rural Jefferson County before she married in 1933 and moved to Quincy a few years later with husband George, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But never in her wildest imagination did she ever think this country would elect a black president in her life time.

"I remember my father, he was a preacher, talk about the bottom rail rising to the top. I didn't know what that meant until I was grown, but I never thought back then he was preaching about the nation," she said.

Throughout her life she has seen lots of things and endured even more because that was the way things were and no one, in the early days, thought things would ever change.

"This is God's plan. He never would have won unless God had put him in the right place at the right time with the right people around him. I pray that he will be successful, but it will hard for that young man," she said.

Going through back doors, sitting in the back of the bus and suffering insults were a part things that Farmer knew well. Those days did not define Farmer or her family. The mother of 11 children with of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she is hard-pressed to remember the many professional endeavors.

Like Obama said in his speech, she taught her children to work and study hard, take responsibility and that by doing so, they would be successful. She can count ministers, teachers, military officers, engineers, doctors and nurses among her offspring. And now, when the next great grandchild comes along, she can tell him or her that becoming president is possible with hard work and character.

But during the Civil Rights era, she did her best to protect her children and while encouraging, them she was careful to temper it with the reality of that time.

"My husband marched with Dr. King in St. Augustine and in Tallahassee and the preachers would hold meetings around the community at night. I would be afraid until he got home. Back then, things would happen to people and the preachers were almost the only ones who would speak up. It was dangerous," she said.

But Tuesday Farmer said it all seemed in the distant past. Still, she is concerned for the president's safety and hopes the Secret Service can keep him from harm.

"There are still some cuckoos out there," she said.

If she was granted a private audience with the president, Farmer said she would tell him to bring the soldiers home. After seeing one grandson go through three tours of duty in Iraq and another go once, she doesn't want to see any more fighting anywhere in the world.

"I'm behind him all the way. He's everybody's president now and he's so handsome. Yes, we can," she said.