From King's 'Dream' to Obama's Reality

As Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama prepares to deliver his acceptance speech before an anticipated crowd of 75,000 at Denver's Invesco Field tonight, many African-Americans across the nation reflect on the historic significance of the event, which comes 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King delivered his enduring "I Have a Dream" speech.

Washington restaurant Ben's Chili Bowl was for many years a gathering place for civil rights leaders. The landmark diner is in the heart of the neighborhood known as Black Broadway, about 2 miles from where King delivered his enduring words.

At present-day Ben's, patrons express a mixture of elation and disbelief at what Obama has accomplished.

From defense contractor Chris Richardson, 43, who said he is "really happy that this day has come" to World War II veteran Albert Chandler, who said he didn't expect a black man to become a major party's presidential nominee.

"Not in my lifetime. But it happened. I guess I lived too long," he said, smiling.

Watch Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos at the Democratic Convention TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Also enjoying lunch at Ben's this week was retired D.C. police officer Sebron Isom. Forty-five years ago today he had the task of protecting King.

"They assigned me to walk through the Mall with him all the way to the Lincoln Memorial," Isom recalled.

"I was in his presence. I had a circle around him with about 25 policemen."

And he, too, was skeptical that this day would ever come.

"I miscalculated the whole thing. I've said many times to my boy and my friends, I'll never see the day when a black man would get that far."

"I've seen lynchings, I've seen beatings, I've seen sharecropper fraud, and cheating and beating. And I just never thought we'd get to this place and time," Isom continued.

In that historic moment 45 years ago, a 23-year-old civil rights activist named John Lewis gave his own speech on that hot summer day.

"We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!" Lewis told the crowd.

Tonight, now Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is in Denver to witness a moment he said he's prayed for.

"The nomination of Barack Obama is a down payment on making the dream of Dr. King real," he told ABC News. "It is not the end or the beginning, but it is a step, a significant step down a very long road to create a more perfect union."

"We saw those signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women, white waiting, colored waiting and to see a man like Barack Obama rise to this level, he carries our hopes, our dreams, our longings, our aspirations," Lewis added.

The White House Obama hopes to occupy was built by slaves. For so many African-Americans, Obama's nomination has profoundly changed the way they view what can be achieved in this country.

A new ABC News poll finds that 64 percent of blacks now believe their child could become president. Only 46 percent of whites believe the same.

That hope and optimism over Obama's achievement is on display at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C.

"Even if Barack Obama does not win, we as a people have come so far, we as a nation have come so far," said Corey Briscoe, 19.

Back at Ben's, Richardson echoed that thought.

"When Dr. King said, 'I may not get there with you to the mountaintop, but I know, want you to know that we're going to get there.' And that day is coming forth."

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