By Roland Martin

The day after Sen. Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, my mom sent me the following text message: "I woke up this morning, did my prayer time and then turned on my TV to see if anything had changed. Thank God it hadn't."

That was the feeling among many African-Americans and others Nov. 5. Yes, indeed, the first African-American was elected to the most powerful position in the world. The world didn't implode. But I can assure you that a lot of folks stood a bit more upright and walked differently after watching such a historic victory.

A few folks have said that they always thought Obama would win. Count conservative commentator John McWhorter in that camp. I saw him at CNN the day after the election, and he said he always thought it would happen.

Sorry, I wasn't in that group.

Did I think it could happen? Yep. Was it likely, considering how messed up President George W. Bush has left the economy? Absolutely. But the doubt was there because we were venturing into uncharted territory. In fact, while doing an election special on CNN two days before Election Day, I was asked to give my prediction, and I essentially said: "Forget 300 or 350 electoral votes. All it takes is 270. Everything else is gravy!"

And at 11 p.m. Eastern time, when CNN called the election for Obama, all I could do was look at the video wall and see a black man as president. Then I focused on the monitors to see the cheering crowds in Chicago's Grant Park — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, men, women, children. There were folks from all walks of life, and they were experiencing something none of us ever envisioned.

What went through my mind? The countless black men who returned home from the war and were lynched in their military uniforms. They courageously fought Hitler and Mussolini to protect the American way of life, only to have their lives taken by so-called American patriots who didn't want their racist way of life changed.

I thought about the millions of black children who had to huddle in one-room schoolhouses clawing their way to an education because separate but equal, even when overturned, ruled the day. My mind thought of countless African-American men and women who went to work every day having to sit in the backs of buses, drink from colored water fountains, get their food from the backs of restaurants, unable to stay in the very hotels they sang and danced in.

I literally felt our slave ancestors breaking the chains and yelling, "We are truly free now!"

But I also wondered what Viola Liuzzo would say.

She was the white 39-year-old Michigan mother of five who was shot and killed on an Alabama highway after the Selma and Montgomery voting-rights marches. She was one of many whites who gave their time, money and, yes, lives in order to see that full rights and privileges were provided to African-Americans.

They, too, should celebrate this victory because their blood also was shed to see a day when a black man could walk into the Oval Office.

Lastly, I guess it's only fitting that Obama would be the president in 2009.

In the same year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will celebrate its 100th anniversary. What many may not realize is that the NAACP was created after a race riot in Springfield, Ill., the same city where Obama served as a state legislator for eight years and where he launched his presidential campaign.

Some may call that coincidence. Others may say it's divine order.

Whatever you want to call it, all I can say to President-elect Barack Obama is "thank you." Our ancestors thank you. And America thanks you.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN contributor and the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Visit his Web site at www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.