Americans of all backgrounds can take pride in Barack Obama's overcoming one of this nation's most enduring racial barriers.

The Illinois senator made history Tuesday night, becoming the first African American to capture a major party's nomination for the presidency.

His groundbreaking step is an extraordinary achievement for the candidate, for the Democratic Party, and for anyone who ever believed that this day would come.

Obama broke through a color barrier that has existed in this nation for 219 years. Whether or not you're an Obama supporter, his victory represents progress toward racial equality.

The United States has had 43 presidents - all white men. Now, Obama is in position to break the commander-in-chief barrier. Of course, presumed Republican nominee John McCain will have a lot to say about that.

The Democrats were going to make history one way or another this year, after former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina dropped out and left the primary race to Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Clinton campaigned with tenacity until the final primary vote to become the first woman nominated for president. Such is Clinton's resolve that she wouldn't immediately concede. She fought the good fight but lost; it's time for her to acknowledge Obama's victory. They share the same goals, including affordable health insurance and an end to the war in Iraq.

Despite hard feelings on both sides, their contest was good for the country. Obama and Clinton generated record voter turnout, and spoke for women and minorities, who too often feel left out of elections. They excited millions of new voters.

Obama confronted racial issues in a memorable speech in Philadelphia. Clinton said she never gave a "gender speech" because she believed her campaign was a daily lesson in what women can achieve.

Many Clinton supporters feel she suffered from sexist treatment by the media and on the campaign trail. Certainly, when a journalist refers to her as "Mrs. Clinton" but calls her foe "Sen. Obama," and when a heckler tells Clinton she should be at home ironing shirts, gender equality is still a long way off. But such behavior doesn't explain why Clinton lost. Her campaign made a series of missteps, starting with the Iowa caucuses.

Both parties now are somewhat fractured. Obama needs to appeal to women and working-class white voters who supported Clinton. Not all conservatives are convinced McCain is worthy of their votes. The repair work ahead for both candidates will help show which one has better leadership qualities.