At age 96 and in frail health, Mary Sanders barely contains her excitement.
She's thrilled that Barack Obama has been elected president. And she's happy to know, too, that someone else recognizes that she shares history with the president-elect.
"I thought about it, too," she laughs, when asked about her own precedent-setting election.
It was just 16 years ago that Sanders became the first black person elected to office in Columbia County since the anomaly of post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Sanders served a single term on the county's school board, topping off a long and storied career as a Columbia County educator. Her name adorns the library at North Harlem Elementary, and will soon be on the city's new community building.
But Obama's election is a far more exciting development, she says.
"I didn't think I would live to see it," she says, describing her amazement as the election night events unfolded on her Harlem television. "It's unbelievable. I looked and saw all the mass of people and I thought, 'Where did they come from'?"
Sanders' father, Will Sanders, was a man of significant stature in Columbia County, a farmer and entrepreneur who did well for himself and his family. He rose far in the community despite the societal constraints on black success, but still would have had a difficult time comprehending Obama's election.
"I don't know what he really would think," Sanders laughs. "He just wouldn't have believed it, I expect. He would have thought it was a false show," like some still believe the moon landing was staged.
She can scarce believe it herself. "This is just something," she says, breathlessly. "This is historic. This is something."
Much like the new president-elect, Sanders' own trip toward history began humbly - and, coincidentally, at a time of national economic upheaval. She began her teaching career in 1932 in McDuffie County, educating black children of all ages in one-room schoolhouses.
Columbia County Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard hired Sanders to teach at Pollard Academy, a black elementary school, in 1954. She saw that many fathers of her students were veterans who had fought in World War II yet lacked education, so she organized night classes for them.
In 1958 she became the school's principal in a year in which Blanchard launched an ambitious building program to upgrade schools in the black and white communities, eliminating one-room schoolhouses for good.
Sanders rose along with the educational system, later serving at George T. White Elementary in Harlem - named for one of the county's legendary black educators - and then North Harlem Elementary, where she was principal for 17 years until her retirement.
"I don't think as well as I used to think, I'm very forgetful, I can't get around like I used to get around, I can't do things I used to do," Sanders laments. "But when I look over my past, I say, 'Well, maybe I've done mostly what was expected of me to do."
So, as Obama marches toward his history, and Sanders looks back at her own, what advice does she have for the next commander-in-chief?
It's pretty simple; the same things that served her well in her long tenure as a public servant would help him, too.
"He needs to keep his ears open and listen to what everybody says," Sanders suggests. "Be sure, be sure he has some connections and that he knows where he wants to go, he knows how he's going. But somebody else just may have something that's a little bit better than what he's thinking.
"Listen. Listen. Listen. And pray over it and think over it and do the best," Sanders says.
From a great lady, great advice - not just for the next president, but for all of us.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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