CBS’s Smith on Obama Win: ‘I Wept Tears of Joy’

At the end of Wednesday’s CBS Early Show, an emotional Harry Smith declared: "I don't know how else to say this -- I grew up in a household that was not racially neutral. I grew up in a household where racial epithets were used commonly and with vigor. To see the difference in this country, in a country that I grew up in, so many people have said this is not something they thought they would ever see in their lifetime, and I wept tears of joy last night." Co-host Julie Chen observed: "You have tears in your eyes right now, Harry." [audio available here]

Prior to that admission, Smith interviewed poet Maya Angelou and asked: "Who were you thinking about last night as you watched the coverage?" Angelou replied: "All of us. All of those who went before, who paid dearly. And all of us today, all of us. I'm so proud, I'm filled -- I can hardly talk without weeping -- I'm so filled with pride for my country. What do you say? We are growing up." Angelou later added: "And he is inclusive, as opposed to exclusive. I know that he knows he is the president of every black person, every white person, he's the president of the bigots and he must remember that." Smith added: "He said in his acceptance speech, ‘for those of you who voted against me, I hear you too.’" Angelou replied: "Yes, exactly. That's what I mean...We will be together. This is what he dreams, he envisions it."

Smith pleaded for Angelou to recite some of her poetry: "Of your many great poems, the poem that I have been thinking about since I knew that I was going to talk to you today was 'I Rise,' could you, would you, give us some of it this morning?" As Angelou concluded the poem with the line, "Bringing the hopes that my ancestors gave, I am the hope and the dream of the slave. And so, Harry Smith, we all rise." Smith continued: "And I rise...And I rise. And I rise." Following that recitation, co-host Maggie Rodriguez shared her thoughts:

Harry, not a dry eye right here among the whole crew. And last night, 150,000 people were rising up here in Grant Park and cheering the historical significance of Barack Obama's victory. For them, it was a dream come true. And it was impossible not to be moved witnessing it, no matter what your political affiliation is, it was just about an historic moment in American history. This was the epicenter. For the first time, we are seeing an African-American president and to have the privilege of living it and seeing it first hand is -- is just indescribable.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

8:43AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: Barack Obama made history last night as he became the first African-American to become the president-elect. But there have been many other great African-American firsts in our history that have captured the attention and the hearts of the nation.

BARACK OBAMA: It's been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this day, change has come to America.

SMITH: It is something many people never imagined they would see in their lifetime, an African-American president.

OBAMA: And may God bless the United States of America.

SMITH: For it was just over 50 years ago that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. And 40 some years ago since Martin Luther King and others risked their lives in the march for civil rights and the right to vote. There would be no Barack Obama without the shoulders of others to stand on.

THURGOOD MARSHALL: Desegregation will proceed-

SMITH: Thurgood Marshall made history as the lead attorney in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's first damning blow to Jim Crow and segregation. Marshall would join that court 13 years later.

MANNING MARABLE, COLUMBIA PROFESSOR: The possibility of a truly color blind judiciary came into being.

JESSE JACKSON: We've come from this grace to amazing grace.

SMITH: In 1984, Jesse Jackson became the first African-American to win a presidential primary.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the Nat King Cole Show.

SMITH: Political progress and popular culture mirrored each other.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Don't take too much off of the top.

SMITH: Acceptance didn't come easy.

MARABLE: In the 1950s, blacks generally were portrayed in servile positions on American television. There was one great exception, and that once a week, you had this stellar performer, Nat King Cole-

NAT KING COLE: Yes, it's a good day for singing a song-

SMITH: After just two seasons, Nat King Cole pulled the plug, citing a lack of sponsors saying, 'I guess Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.'

SIDNEY POITIER: I'm pleased to meet you Mrs. Drayton.

SMITH: Sidney Poitier became America's first black movie star, he shattered stereotypes in a time when many Americans were still proud of their prejudices.

POITIER: An awful lot of people are going to think we're a very shocking pair. Isn't that right, Mrs. Drayton.

KATHERINE HEPBURN: I -- I know what you mean.

SMITH: But it is Jackie Robinson who will always be remembered as one of the greatest, when he integrated America's past time, he changed more than the game. Those firsts were followed not always in quick succession by other firsts. But this first is arguably the most important one of all.

OBAMA: America, we have come so far, we have seen so much-

SMITH: Sometimes prophecy comes in the form of dreams, and the dreams come true.

OBAMA: We as a people-

MARTIN LUTHER KING: -will get to the promised land!

SMITH: One person who witnessed and wrote eloquently about some of those moments in history is author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou. Good morning.

MAYA ANGELOU: Good morning.

SMITH: Who were you thinking about last night as you watched the coverage?

ANGELOU: All of us. All of those who went before, who paid dearly. And all of us today, all of us. I'm so proud, I'm filled -- I can hardly talk without weeping -- I'm so filled with pride for my country. What do you say? We are growing up. My God, I'm so grateful. I'm -- I believe in the heart of every American there's the desire to belong to a great country. And look at it, not just powerful, not just might, not just things, not consumer goods, I mean, look at our souls, look at our hearts, we have elected a black man to talk for us, to speak for us. We, blacks, whites, Asians, Spanish speaking, Native Americans, we have done it. Fat, thin, pretty, plain, gay, straight, we have done it. My lord -- I am an American, baby.

SMITH: [LAUGHTER] Why this man?

ANGELOU: Because he's intelligent, Harry. I don't mean intellectually clever, I mean intelligent. I mean what used to be called mother wit, he has common sense, which is, I'm sorry to say, most uncommon. Because he knows that together we can be somebody. You see? And he is inclusive, as opposed to exclusive. I know that he knows he is the president of every black person, every white person, he's the president of the bigots and he must remember that.

SMITH: He said in his acceptance speech, 'for those of you who voted against me, I hear you too.'

ANGELOU: Yes, exactly. That's what I mean. That mean's that you know that we will not, as Shakespeare -- to quote Shakespeare, by 'limping sway disabled.' We will be together. This is what he dreams, he envisions it.

SMITH: Is there a tiny little part of you that said, 'did this really happen?'

ANGELOU: Yes, yes. Sitting and waiting to come on and talk to you. Yes, this morning I've not slept really. I can't pull my nose out of the television. And I go from one channel to the next, to the next. And I want to embrace everybody. I just am so proud. And grateful.

SMITH: Of your many great poems, the poem that I have been thinking about since I knew that I was going to talk to you today was 'I Rise,' could you, would you, give us some of it this morning?

ANGELOU: It begins: You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies. You may drive me in the very dirt but still like dust, I'll rise. Out of the huts of history's shame, I rise. Up from a past rooted in pain, I rise. A black ocean leaping and wide, whirling and swirling bearing in the tide, leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into daybreak miraculously clear, I rise. Bringing the hopes that my ancestors gave, I am the hope and the dream of the slave. And so, Harry Smith, we all rise.

SMITH: And I rise.

ANGELOU: Yes, we do. Yes, we do.

SMITH: And I rise. And I rise. Dr. Maya Angelou, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

ANGELOU: Mr. Harry Smith, thank you very much for having me.

SMITH: Let's go back to Chicago. Here's Maggie.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Harry, not a dry eye right here among the whole crew. And last night, 150,000 people were rising up here in Grant Park and cheering the historical significance of Barack Obama's victory. For them, it was a dream come true. And it was impossible not to be moved witnessing it, no matter what your political affiliation is, it was just about an historic moment in American history. This was the epicenter. For the first time, we are seeing an African-American president and to have the privilege of living it and seeing it first hand is -- is just indescribable.

SMITH: [Choked up] I don't know how else to say this -- I grew up in a household that was not racially neutral. I grew up in a household where racial epithets were used commonly and with vigor. To see the difference in this country, in a country that I grew up in, so many people have said this is not something they thought they would ever see in their lifetime, and I wept tears of joy last night.

JULIE CHEN: You have tears in your eyes right now, Harry.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC