“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. 

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. 

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 

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.”

Spencer Emerson, who grew up in Lewiston and Auburn, says he contemplated what the “American dream” meant, and who could attain it, even as a young kid. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Spencer Emerson, 27, attended high school in Lewiston and Auburn, taught school and coached locally after college, and will leave soon to become an offensive assistant football coach at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

He remembers thinking about the idea of the American dream, that anybody can “pick themselves up by their bootstraps,” when he was very young.

“My first thought as a kid was, ‘What about people who don’t have boots?'” Emerson said. “The idea that no matter where you start, you’ll be able to ‘make it’ — that was tough for me, because I always view America as everybody’s at a staggered starting point.

“If everyone was born in the same household, with the same values, same disciplines, same school systems, that would be totally different,” he added. “But the child of two Harvard graduates that have a six-figure income and the child of a single mother who has issues that she’s dealing with don’t scream ‘same starting point.'”

In that sense, Emerson said, King’s American dream is “almost like idealism versus realism. Idealistically, of course, everybody would have the same opportunity.”

“We all dream differently,” he said. “My hope is we can acknowledge the fact that not everything is attainable for everybody, unfortunately.”

Another passage in King’s speech, about the son of slaves one day prospering, led Emerson to think about recent runoff races in Georgia.

“(The Rev. Raphael Warnock’s mother) wasn’t a slave, but she did have a low-wage job picking cotton to provide for her family,” Emerson said. “It’s amazing to think about how in the state of Georgia, which was referenced by Dr. King, a man who is the son of a woman who picked cotton in that state is now a (U.S.) senator. It really made me smile in terms of how, wow, we still have a lot to work on, but part of Dr. King’s words are coming to life. It was really one that hit home because it’s so recent, so current.”

From his seat in the U.S. Senate, Warnock will have a chance to effect real change and have a voice, Emerson said.

“It’s a little bit of hope.”

— Kathryn Skelton, Sun Journal

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