Boise woman reflects on broader meaning of the presidential election

Though her father lived to 104 — almost long enough to witness Barack Obama's rise — Yvonne McCoy saw him cry only once. Henry McCoy’s tears fell on an autumn day in 1960, when he told his youngest child he could not vote for John F. Kennedy because he was a black man and lived in Petersburg, Va.

Then 12, Yvonne knew about Jim Crow. She attended segregated schools, had to sit in the balcony at the movies, couldn’t try on shoes before buying. But it hadn’t occurred to her that her father, a lion of a man who supported nine children as a violin teacher, carpenter and janitor might be denied anything.

"I was just devastated," recalled McCoy, who later became an aide to Idaho Sen. Frank Church and now lives in Boise. "Can you imagine being a kid who thinks your father was just everything, who could do anything, who cries because he couldn't vote? I didn't think fathers cried. Why would someone do that to my father? Why would someone do that to me?"

The incident prompted Henry McCoy to move his family north in 1961, four years before the Voting Rights Act removed the barriers that prevented Southern blacks from voting.

"He couldn't wait," said Yvonne McCoy, who, like Obama, is the child of a black father and white mother. "He just finally decided we had to move, we had to leave."

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