Lula Cooper expects the tears to flow if Barack Obama becomes the first black president. But she's not breaking out the tissues just yet.
"I cried when I marked my ballot for him. We've had such an incredible journey to this point," said the former civil rights activist, her voice quavering. "I think he's going to win, but I really am very, very cautious."
Like a Hollywood blockbuster whose conclusion feels assured but still sets the heart racing, the endgame of this election has gripped black America with a powerful mixture of emotions.
Obama's potential victory represents a previously unimaginable triumph over centuries of racism. But beneath the hope and pride lies fear: of polling inaccuracy, voting chicanery, or the type of injustice and violence that have historically stymied African-American progress.
Cooper, 75, experienced the oppression of the 1950s and '60s as she was dragged off to jail for protesting segregation in Wilmington, Del., where her husband was DuPont's first black chemist. Now living in the Southwest, she said she experienced modern politics when her husband lost a recent bid to become their city's first black mayor after the election was switched to mail-in ballots rather than polling-place voting.
So when it comes to Obama, Cooper is "optimistic and hopeful - but experience plays a big part."
"With my generation, in the '60s every leader that we had was killed," she said. "Then it's almost like a plate over your heart. Once you've been hurt - King, Kennedy, Medgar Evers - you dare not put that much emotion out there again."
With even some Republicans using the word "miracle" to characterize the prospect of a victory by GOP candidate John McCain, given his lagging poll numbers, the shock of an Obama loss would be almost incalculable for many blacks. So people are protecting themselves.
"I can't tell you how much fear, but at the same time joy and expectation I have," said James Lowry, a management consultant from Chicago. "It revolves around every five minutes. I have hope, I read the polls, I get excited, then I say, 'Anything can happen."'
Paul Durr of Guys, Tenn., voted early last week. "I was jumping up and down," he said. "The other people in line thought I was crazy."
"If Obama wins, and I know he's going to win, it will pull this country together in terms of race relations," said Durr, who owns a cemetery monument company and is mayor of Guys, pop. 500.
"He has to win," Durr said. "If he doesn't, I think you'll see this country - I'm afraid to say what I think would happen the next day. I don't even want to think that way."