"I have struggled in life, thinking this day would never manifest," said 58-year-old Oakland resident George Chinn, who is black.
"This is like a dream come true," he said. "It's real now, even if it never happens again."
Obama will be the nation's first black president, and the topic of race was woven through both the Illinois senator's victory speech and Republican Sen. John McCain's concession speech.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible ... tonight is your answer," Obama boomed to a vast crowd at Grant Park in Chicago.
McCain spoke of Obama's win to a crowd of rowdy and disappointed supporters at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Ariz.
"I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans," he said. "A special pride must be theirs tonight."
That pride was evident at the Marriott in Oakland tonight, where more than half of the assembled crowd was black.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," said Riveka Mason, 51, of Oakland. "This is revolutionary. We have got to change things around. This was our only hope."
When the election was called for Obama, the crowd screamed, whooped, hugged and cried. One woman appeared on the verge of fainting, hand held over her mouth, repeating "Oh my God."
"This marks a new page in our history, for America and the world, said Simon Leazer-Appelman, 24, of Berkeley, tears streaming down his face.
"I am more hopeful than I've ever been for the future," he said.
Young people dotted the crowd, including some who had participated in a 36-hour marathon phone banking effort that preceded the party.
"I'm excited," said 17-year-old Teju Adisa-Farrar of Oakland.
"We speak of liberty and equality," she said. "This is what it is. The whole world is ready for Obama."