Severin Beliveau saw the symbolism.

Grant Park in Chicago. Mayor Daley. Landmark day in the racial history of the United States.

Forty years ago, Beliveau was at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, hosted by Mayor Richard J. Daley, that was torn apart by Vietnam War protesters and curdling race relations within the party. He recalled Daley giving members of the Mississippi delegation the finger as they walked out of the convention hall.

Last night, Beliveau was back in Grant Park, hosted by Mayor Richard M. Daley, the other Daley’s son, and this time it was the site of a victory celebration. For the first time in U.S. history, the president-elect was a black man, Barack Obama.

“It hasn’t been like this in the Democratic Party for a very long time,” said Beliveau, a well-known Maine Democrat, Augusta lawyer and Rumford native, before the cheers drowned out his voice about 10:30 p.m. “Of course at this point, Ohio and Pennsylvania have been called for Obama, so it’s inevitable.”

It was a drastically different scene in the summer of 1968.

“I recall visiting Grant Park and I was there when the police came,” Beliveau said. “When the police arrived they were arresting hundreds and hundreds of demonstrators just for the sake of demonstrating. There was a great deal of excessive force and brutality being used, which was a surprise to those of us from Maine.”

He arrived at the convention 40 years ago as newly elected chairman of the Democratic Party in Maine, joined by Maine U.S. Sen. Ed Muskie, Gov. Ken Curtis and the rest of the Maine delegates, Beliveau said. Muskie was named the Democratic vice presidential nominee by Hubert Humphrey, the top of the ticket, though they went on to lose the election.

“That was pretty dramatic,” said Beliveau of the convention. “If you compare this to the 1968 experience, Grant Park has been transformed to very positive end.”

Beliveau, a longtime mover and shaker within the Maine Democratic Party, had a few different reasons to witness the historical evening in Chicago this time around, most notably his son, Emmett, who served as the national director of events for the Obama campaign and organized the rally in Grant Park.

Beliveau said his son estimated the crowd in and around Grant Park totaled between 400,000 to 500,000 people.

“There’s literally a sea of people,” Beliveau said. “The number of people, young men and women here, is just incredible. Listen to them!”

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