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Changing Her Vote, Not Her Party

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For the past few weeks, we've been giving you stories about passionate voters observing the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. And we'll check back in with them on Election Night.

Ninety-year-old Laura Jolly grew up in the South, at time when for most blacks, Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party was the party of choice.

JOLLY: Afro-Americans voted, the only way they could vote, was Republican.

She says voting Republican remained her family's tradition, until 1932 when the family jumped ship.

JOLLY: It was during the Roosevelt years that they changed because Roosevelt was doing so much for poor and unemployed. And you know that was during the Depression years.

Jolly voted for FDR that year, but after his tenure, she and her family went back to voting for Republicans. Today she's a retired public school educator, living in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood with her granddaughter's family. But even living here in the midst of a Democratic stronghold, Jolly says she's maintained her staunch GOP alliance.

Until this year.

JOLLY: I'm voting for Barack Obama. He is the man of the year as far as I'm concerned. I'm not changing my party; I'm changing my vote.

Jolly says personal responsibility and non-dependence on government are what she was taught growing up.

JOLLY: My grandfather always stressed: keep a job and buy you a piece of land.

She never thought she'd see a black candidate get this close to the White House. Yes, she's drawn to the historic nature of Obama's run. But there's something else.

JOLLY: Barack represents, in my opinion, all of the qualities that I look for in a president. He is intelligent, he has a supportive and loving family and he demonstrates great composure when he's under fire. He presents himself so he makes one believe. At least he makes me believe what he's saying, he really means.

Jolly has experienced Jim Crow. She's been called Negro, Colored, black and African American. She possesses relics of a long ago era.

ambi: Can I see it?

What she gets for me are historic papers marking a dark period in this country. One her father witnessed firsthand.

JOLLY: This is one is for 1912 where he paid his poll tax. And this one is 1913...you can see it on there.

Those are poll tax receipts for one dollar that Jolly's father was forced to pay in Tennessee, the state where she was born. Poll taxes were often inflicted on black voters after they received the right to vote from the 15th Amendment.

Times have changed, but Jolly still believes education is the tool that blacks must use to fight their way into the American mainstream. That's the character she likes about Harvard-educated Obama who came from modest means.

JOLLY: He could've gone to any big law firm anywhere but he chose to come to Chicago and work in South Chicago and help them unfortunate people. He is just an ideal for young Afro-Americans to look at.

Laura Jolly hasn't given up on the Republican Party and says she prays for President Bush every night. But Obama's opponent, Republican John McCain, is too old she says and a younger person is needed to guide these times.

Right now Jolly is proud to call herself an “Obamcan”—Republicans for Obama.

I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.


Music Button: Carey & Lurrie Bell, “Gettin' Up” from the CD Gettin' Up Live, (Delmark records)

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