108-year-old man meets President Obama in Elkhart

Published: Jun. 1, 2016 at 10:02 PM EDT
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A lot has happened in the 108 years Lester Townsend has been on this planet.

He grew up as the grandson of a slave.

He lived through the Civil Rights Era and has seen race relations grow over the last century.

And Wednesday, he got to meet the first African-American President of the United States.

Lester Townsend, 108, had never met a sitting U.S. President before. He's lived through a number of them, 19 to be exact, dating back to Theodore Roosevelt who was President from 1901-1909. Townsend, born in 1908, has surely done a lot in his life but meeting the first African-American President of the United States was something extra special given his family's history.

"It means a lot because my grandfather was a slave," Townsend said. "Being the grandson of a slave and meeting the President of the United States, that's thrilling to me."

Townsend was able to get into Wednesday's speech at Concord High School thanks to a friendship he forged with current Democratic Nominee for the Indiana 2nd District, Lynn Coleman.

"I'm here today with a young man who is 108 years old," Coleman said. "We're here to bring Mr. Townsend here so he has an opportunity to witness this. He's 108 years old and has never seen a President of this country before in person. It's extremely exciting for the President to be here but it's more exciting for me for Mr. Townsend to have an opportunity to witness it. He's an exceptional man. To be able to call him a friend and someone I looked up to for years, it's a blessing."

Even through the rain, Mr. Townsend was all smiles.

"It's thrilling to know I'm getting this close to see him," He said.

Mr. Townsend passed through the security check points and into Concord's gymnasium; Coleman in front leading the way. But before President Obama could even reach the stage, Mr. Townsend had the opportunity to meet him, shake his hand and even speak a few words with the Commander in Chief... well try to at least.

"I'll tell you, I had to pinch myself to see if it was real," Townsend said. "I had a chance to shake his hand and talk with him, if I could have thought of anything to say. Just to talk and shake hands with the President of the United States. I never thought it would happen to me and I just enjoyed it to the highest. It was a blessing. I'll never forget it."

Having lived through the Jim Crow Era and seeing where we are now, Townsend knows Wednesday was the highlight of where race issues in America have come.

"We've come from a long way," Townsend said. "My grandfather, he and his brother were given to his old master for his daughter's wedding present. They were young men but they were given to him. I tell you, to think how far we have been behind and come this far, we're not there yet, but we're on our way."