In 1909, the year Virginia McLaurin was born, at least 69 African Americans were lynched, three or more of them in her native South Carolina. Blacks were effectively barred from voting, Jim Crow laws enforced a brutal and inhumane segregation, and career prospects for blacks – let alone a black woman like McLaurin – were grotesquely limited.
Which helps explain why McLaurin, now 106, was so thrilled to visit President and Michelle Obama in the White House that she danced her way into her brief meeting with them as part of a celebration of Black History Month.
It’s a moment of sheer joy for McLaurin, a former seamstress who moved to Washington in 1941 – when the city was still segregated. Her glee is contagious in the video the White House posted Sunday night.
Mixed in with the joy was an poignant recognition of what Obama’s presidency has meant beyond matters of war, policy and civil liberties.
“I thought I would never live to get into the White House,” McLaurin said. “And I tell you, I am so happy. A black president. A black wife. And I’m here to celebrate black history.”
And to embody it.
Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.