South Sider sees lifting of racial barriers

Annie R. Stubenfield locked eyes with a white man as they passed each other Wednesday on Cottage Grove Avenue in Bronzeville.

"You could see the smile in his eye," said Stubenfield, a 53-year-old black woman. "We totally connected."

The exchange, which she attributes to Barack Obama's presidential victory, was a marked departure from what she normally experiences passing white people in her neighborhood, she said.

"There's an invisible aura between African-Americans and Caucasians—especially if we don't know one another," said Stubenfield. Before Tuesday, she said, white people often looked away or down at that moment.

A photographer and community activist, Stubenfield grew up on the South Side. She vividly recalls visiting the downtown Montgomery Ward department store with her father and sisters when she was a young girl.

There were two bathrooms, she said. The one that was "really pretty" required a user fee.

"The only people in the pretty bathrooms were white people," Stubenfield said, who said the feeling of being "separate" stung hard.

Wednesday's warm moment left her feeling hopeful that a racial shift was under way.

"Something has been lifted," she said. "The tension and stand-offishness is down."