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Beneath Strong Support For Clinton, Emotions Run Deep Among Black Voters


African-American voters are some of the most reliable Democrats. Polls suggest they overwhelmingly will choose Hillary Clinton for president. But this election has not been easy. For many black voters, it's been an emotional rollercoaster, as NPR's Sam Sanders found out.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: I went to Atlanta with a simple request for a cross-section of African-Americans. Describe his campaign season in as few words as possible.

AMBER SCOTT: Yeah, no - I'm exhausted.

KALENA BOLLER: I feel like I'm watching a reality TV show run amok.

GERALD GRIGGS: And in two words - the circus.

MICHELLE GIPSON: Mayhem - what I imagine politics to have been like in the '60s - that's what it feels like right now.

STACEY ABRAMS: Stockholm syndrome - we have as a nation allowed ourselves to be convinced that this election makes sense.

SANDERS: That was Amber Scott, Kalena Boller, Gerald Griggs, Michelle Gipson and Stacey Abrams. And if voters like these are the barometer, this year has been hard for black America, caught between Donald Trump, who many black people view as racist, and Hillary Clinton, who many black voters just aren't that excited about - on top of that repeated stories of unarmed black people being shot by police. And President Barack Obama's historic time in office is coming to a close.

BOLLER: I remember when he was elected, and I remember him when he took the oath of office.

SANDERS: Kalena Boller is a TV producer. She talked to me at a production lot in Atlanta. She was thinking back to Obama's first inauguration.

BOLLER: I was working on another production here in Atlanta, and I was the only black person in the entire pre-production crew.

SANDERS: I talked with Boller and her friend Brittany Bailey. She told us at work that inauguration day, she just felt really special.

BOLLER: And when I walked in, it was almost like they rolled out the red carpet for Kalena.

BRITTANY BAILEY: Yeah (laughter).

BOLLER: They rolled it out. They said, oh, come sit. They let me sit in the front. I was right in - and you know, I have an afro right now, so I was, like, blocking people's view, you know? Then I started crying, and next thing I know, a tissue box showed up. I mean it was...

BAILEY: You felt like royalty (laughter).

BOLLER: I did. It was weird, but I said, you know what? I was OK with it. I said, let me have this.

SANDERS: But it's been emotional whiplash from 2009 to 2016.

BOLLER: I oftentimes just want to go home, get under my bed (laughter) and just stay there.

SANDERS: And Biranna Butler, who is 18, can vote for the first time this year, said this about the election.

BIRANNA BUTLER: This is what I've been waiting on.

SANDERS: So many people I talked to say this election has worn them out. Michelle Gipson says there's one big reason why this campaign season feels so rough.

GIPSON: I think it all comes down to race. It used to be economics. It used to be, you know, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. And now I think a lot of the values center around race.

SANDERS: Richard Rose is the president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. He says America has been grappling with race from its beginning.

RICHARD ROSE: America has never repudiated white supremacy. It has - we have normalized - America has normalized white supremacy and racial oppression.

SANDERS: Minny Shannon is 73, and she says feelings that might have been hidden before are now out in the open.

MINNY SHANNON: It's out in the open because we had the nerve to vote a black man in. And they're doing all this because they really cannot stand - a lot of them - a lot of white men, especially Southern white men, cannot stand the idea that they have a black man in the White House with his black family.

SANDERS: This is black America's 2016 - a feeling that who they are and what America's first black president symbolizes is under attack. I heard little expectation that America's racial climate will get better anytime soon no matter who wins the election, in part for Venice (ph) Lundy because no one person can do it all.

VENICE LUNDY: One person cannot come and solve the racial issues, the economic issues that are going on in this country. I mean we are expecting them to be God and not be human. It takes people, groups of people. And then also it takes decades and generations.

SANDERS: As far as getting that work done, Kalena Boller, the woman who felt like royalty on Obama's first inauguration - here's what she told me. And this is a quote. The climate is scary, but I'm not scared. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.