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Pages of history that you can hold

November 08, 2008|SANDY BANKS

Four days in and the pundits are already critiquing Barack Obama's Cabinet choices and are ready to pounce on how he will handle the economic crisis. I've heard grumbling from campaign-weary voters that it's time to get past this "first black president thing" so our lives can get back to normal

But it was a different story in downtown Los Angeles on Friday as crowds jammed The Times' lobby and lined up around the block to buy copies of Wednesday's newspaper and replicas of the front page, with its photo of the new first family and "IT'S OBAMA" headline.

For three 12-hour days, our lobby has been jammed, and sales will go on through this weekend. "We get a new batch, and a half-hour later they're gone," circulation chief Jack Klunder told me. "But we'll just keep printing."

It caught us in the newsroom by surprise. More than 350,000 extra copies have been sold. "It's bigger than anything I've ever seen," Klunder said, as we watched, amazed at the line that just kept growing.

For years, we've been hearing that print is dying and we've been pouring energy into online features aimed at extending our reach.

But you can't flip the pages of a cyber Times or post a framed blog on your living room wall.

"I want a piece of history, in black and white, to hold in my hands," Connie Jackson told me as I moved through the line Friday, talking with readers about why they had come.

She bought eight copies of the paper and three replica plates Thursday, then came back Friday for more. She plans to frame a front page and mount it on her wall, and send copies to friends in other cities "who want something to remember this moment."

"For me, it's a tangible way of holding on to what's happened," she said. "A connection to something I want to always remember."

I spoke with a dozen people and they all had similar reasons: They'll frame the printing plates, mail the papers to friends, give the glossy front pages as Christmas gifts and pass them down to their grandchildren.

"I'm getting everything you've got, as many as I can buy," said Adrienne Foster, a college administrator who lives near downtown in Lafayette Square. "So everybody I know can be a part of this."

In line behind us, Margaret Kean was listening. I could tell she wanted a chance to talk. She's white, and has two adult biracial sons whose father is black. She grew up in the 1960s in Detroit -- "a mile from the riots" -- and moved here with her sons "so they could avoid trouble.

"This is my story, my kids' struggle," she told me, tears spilling from her eyes. "Now I know my belief that things are changing is right. I tell my sons, 'You have no excuse not to succeed.' . . . This is one of the most perfect moments in life."

On Tuesday night, when election results were announced, she felt the need for physical proof, a record of what had just happened. She snapped a cellphone photo of the television screen.

She also saved a text message her son sent during the campaign. On Friday she showed it to me:

"Rosa Parks sat, so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can FLY."

I read it aloud, and we both stood there crying.

I spent most of last week reporting from my hometown, Cleveland, a city that sees race in terms of black and white. Maybe that's why I was so moved when I arrived at work Friday and saw so many people from so many places waiting so patiently for their page out of history:

The white African American in the "Yes We Can" T-shirt, born in Senegal and married to a Mexican immigrant.

The Latino college professor whose students have been "reborn" because of the election results. "You can see it in their faces," he told me. "They're different people than they were the day before."

The Cambodian refugee who got teary when she talked about "Martin Luther King and the dream that came true on Nov. 4." She waited in line 40 minutes; "it was worth every second," she said. Then she stood nearby clutching her newspapers while I finished other interviews.

Her name is Anne Crosby. She works for FedEx and lives in Hollywood. She stumbled a bit when we talked, not sure whether to call Obama black or African American. But this much she knew:

"In the United States, you can be anything. This lifts people up -- the African American, the Asian, the Spanish. . . . It gives a voice to everyone."

And she knows what she will do with her newspapers. Send them to her young nieces and nephews in Cambodia, "to show them what a country I live in."

--

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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