The first presidential election of which I have any recollection was the 1960 Kennedy election. I was six going on seven years old. In those days I was living in Amarillo, Texas and my dad and I used to go watch minor league baseball. In Kennedy’s first year in office, the 1961 Amarillo Gold Sox were affiliated with the New York Yankees and played in Potter County Stadium. That 1961 team featured future Yankees pitcher and tell-all author Jim Bouton and future Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone.

My dad and I spent countless hours in that little ballpark and I can still see it vividly. The groundskeeper lived in a mobile home down the left field line from which he and his German Shepherd dog watched the games. The entire grandstand was covered by a wire screen and there was a guy with a snare drum that did a drum roll as foul balls rolled down the screen and back on to the field. Graham Plow Company had a big billboard above the left center field wall that was a ground rules home run.

And a pair of rest rooms on the upper level had embossed brass signs outside them that said, “Colored.”

No one who voted in the 1960 election thought they’d ever see a black president. Yet here we are.

The country that at one time refused to serve black customers at lunch counters, the country that refused to allow black women to try on clothes in department stores, the country that stood in the way of black children on their way to white schools, has just enthusiastically and decisively elected a black man to be its president

Hooray for us!

People of every race and color are celebrating Obama’s election for good reason. But none more so than black people. When you consider that there are millions of black people still alive that had to use those separate restrooms or find somewhere else to sit down and eat, Obama’s election to the presidency can be nothing less than electrifying.

But it’s not enough to simply celebrate Obama’s victory. It’s important to understand why it was possible.

Many in the pundit class say we don’t yet really know who Barack Obama is.

Perhaps not.

But here’s what we do know. Barack Obama has two children. They are both the children of Michelle Obama, Barack’s first and only wife of 16 years. By all reports, Barack Obama is a man actively involved in the raising of his children.

We know that Obama embraced education. After graduating high school he attended Occidental College in Los Angeles and Columbia University in New York where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. Later, he earned a law degree from Harvard.

It has struck me since the beginning of the Bush Administration that if you read a Bush speech it is frequently eloquent and moving. But if you hear a Bush speech, you too frequently find yourself cringing.

Not so with Barack Obama and that is, in my opinion, the clincher for him. After eight years of listening to George W. Bush, an Obama speech sounds like a symphony.

It was Obama’s great voice coupled with his mastery of the king’s English that propelled him to victory.

All of which should be a wakeup call to black people. If Barack Obama had fathered a string of illegitimate children, he would not have been elected president. If Barack Obama had dropped out of high school, he would never have held any office. If he lacked a command of grammatically correct American English, and the education necessary to form thoughts and put them forward in a cogent way, he would never have gotten on a primary ballot. If he had become addicted to drugs, instead of being the 44th president he would be almost certainly be dead or incarcerated.

Nearly 70 percent of black births are illegitimate. Depending on the community, as many as half of black students don’t finish high school. Too many black children never see their fathers. Drug trafficking in black neighborhoods is epidemic.

Obama’s election proved that skin color is no longer decisive. Education and personal responsibility are the touchstones. If black America takes this lesson to heart, Obama’s presidency could be among the most important in our history.

For all you want to say for or against his politics, what you have to say about Barack Obama is that he succeeded the old fashioned way.

He earned it.