COLUMBIA, S.C. — More than 25,000 people streamed into the University of South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium Sunday to hear Oprah Winfrey make her case for Democrat Barack Obama — and to make their own statement about the role black voters in this Old South state could play in choosing their nation's next president.
"Dr. King dreamed the dream but we don't have to just dream the dream anymore," Winfrey told them. "We get to vote that dream into reality."
The South Carolina stop on Day Two of Winfrey's endorsement tour — the first time the billionaire talk-show star has backed a presidential candidate — was the largest rally so far in the 2008 presidential campaign and rivaled events for John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
Despite its size, though, the event had a more personal feel than Winfrey's stops in Iowa on Saturday. She was more familiar in her remarks, and they carried a stronger racial undercurrent.
Many in the audience were dressed in suits and hats and had come straight from church, and Winfrey joked about how they kept their hair looking nice in the hot, humid climate.
She said that Obama would bring together whites and blacks and others of color. She spoke of an "amazing grace" that had allowed her own success as a black girl born in rural Mississippi in the 1950s and about how the same grace has positioned Obama as a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"It's a beautiful thing to see him do it, isn't it?" she asked.
The audience responded with "amens" and dancing.
Some leaving the football stadium said they were still undecided about whom to support, but many said they'd been moved by what seemed to be a pivotal event.
Caressa Louallen, 46, said she'd arrived inclined to support New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. She said she changed her mind after she heard Winfrey's argument that Obama's experience as a community organizer was more valuable than a Washington insider's credentials — and also when she looked around at the audience.
"I've never seen anything like this happen in South Carolina," Louallen said. "It's very moving to see not just African-Americans, but my white counterparts, too. That's promising for South Carolina."
Obama spoke longer than he usually does about his background and goals, and while he rambled compared to Winfrey's polished performance, toward the end he, too, tailored his remarks to a black audience. "Don't let 'em tell you we gotta wait," he said. "Our moment is now. Don't tell me I can't do something, 'cause we're doing it."
Upon entering the stadium, each audience member was given a slip of paper that read "Be A Part Of History" and included a telephone script and the first names and phone numbers of four South Carolina residents who voted in the state's 2004 Democratic primary.
Each person was asked to call his or her four voters while waiting for Winfrey to speak, to ask them whether they'd support Obama and to report the information to the Obama campaign.
Juliet E.K. Walker, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the founder of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology, predicted that Winfrey's endorsement would carry weight in South Carolina.
"People are raising the question, 'Can America elect a black person as president?" said Walker, who once taught a university seminar about Winfrey.
"She symbolizes success. She symbolizes what people like to view as achieving the American dream," Walker said. "But the point is, there's only one Oprah and almost 40 million black people in this country. Both Oprah and Obama started out as underdogs. And they are unique and distinct as African-Americans who both have reached what could be considered the pinnacle of success in America."