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For the Descendants of King's Dream, a New Day Dawns

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial, he was not just there to talk about his "dream."

Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. . . .

No region of the country consumed civil rights leaders more than the Deep South. King mentioned Mississippi four times in his speech.

We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

Mississippi was one of the scariest states in the nation for blacks at the time. It was not a "Yes We Can" state. It was the second state to secede from the Union, a state known for its lynchings. It was a state where 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered and thrown into the Tallahatchie River, a state where three civil rights workers were killed as they embarked on a voter registration drive a year after the March on Washington.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

On Thursday, the Mississippi delegation took its seats in the back, near the end zone, right behind Utah, and in front of the CNN booth.

Mississippi had changed. "You know that old saying? The hands that picked cotton can now pick a president," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).

Mississippi. A state of a thousand black elected officials, a state that Obama overwhelmingly carried in the primary. The Democratic National Convention wouldn't seat Emma Sanders in 1964, but she is seated now. She squints her eyes, and they sparkle. In 1964, she was with Fannie Lou Hamer when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party came by bus to the convention in Atlantic City with an alternate delegation. They had come to challenge the legitimacy of the official whites-only Democratic state delegation.

"We went to the floor and to the Mississippi delegation and the whites walked out," Sanders recalled. This day, she said, is a reminder of all the sacrifice. "We know that our effort was not in vain," Sanders said. "Even though we had to take chances down in Mississippi because people were being killed, somebody had to do it. Even though we took chances, it was worth it."

Lisa Ross wasn't there with Hamer, who was once beaten so viciously in jail that she ended up permanently disabled.

But Ross was with Barack Obama early on. "I stayed away from politics, didn't believe in politics," said Ross, a 45-year-old attorney and delegate. "I just hope that Fannie Lou Hamer is looking down and can see what she's responsible for producing. Today, you can be what you want to be."


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