Growing up poor and black in Mississippi, Gerri Hall learned there was a meanness in the world, a set of laws and customs aimed at people like her, which her mother tried to explain once when they were forced to stand aside and let a white lady use the sidewalk.
"Honey," Hall remembers her mother saying, "that's just the way it is in Mississippi."
But there was also love and pride and determination in rural Greenwood, along with a belief that things could and would eventually change — and the way to change them was within her grasp.
"In order to make a difference," Hall says her father often told her, "you've got to understand politics and get involved."
Fifty years later, there is a black man in the White House and Hall is firmly rooted in the middle class, with a nice home in a leafy neighborhood, a pension from her 30-year job at General Motors and enough savings to help her grown son buy a starter place of his own.
"Things have definitely gotten better," she allows, "in terms of tolerance and coexistence and people getting along."
Hall is not, however, satisfied. For the next year, she has one overriding goal: to see that President Obama wins a second term, to show his victory was no fluke, to silence his critics and give him more time to implement the policies she sees thwarted, heedlessly and incessantly, by his Republican foes.
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