Four decades after Martin Luther King was murdered, black Americans are torn between the hope that Barack Obama will reach the White House and the fear that he too could fall to an assassin's bullet.
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But the anniversary of the 1968 slaying of the civil rights icon at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis is a painful reminder of just how fragile that dream remains.
"You know it [an assassination of Mr Obama] can happen," the Reverend Billy Kyles, 73, who spent the last hour of Dr King's life with him, told The Daily Telegraph.
"It has happened for blacks who have done less than get that close to the presidency.
"The closer he [Mr Obama] gets to it, we think in many cases that it's more likely that it's going to happen."
Rev Kyles, pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis for the past 49 years, was with Dr King and another preacher, Ralph Abernathy, who died in 1990, in Room 306 of the motel for the hour before the assassination.
"Martin Luther King had preached himself through the fear of death and that day he was a different guy ? light-hearted, he was telling jokes. It was just three guys kind of hanging out."
Shortly before 6pm, he and Dr King went out onto the balcony and looked out over the supporters gathered below.
"I said, 'Guys, come on let's go, we have a rally tonight'. I had just walked to go down the stairs. I got about five steps and the shot rang out ? kerpow!."
He looked around to see Dr King on the floor.
"I rushed to his side. There was a tremendous hole in the side of his face, there was a big wound under his shirt that I could not see and there was just so much blood ?I remembered my father dying and his colour changing in death. I saw that same thing with Martin Luther King."
Dr King was 39.
Mr Obama, 46, was given full Secret Service protection last May.
It was the earliest juncture for any presidential candidate since the practice was first introduced following the assassination of
Senator Robert Kennedy, two months after Dr King died from a shot fired by James Earl Ray, an escaped convict and racist.
The prospect of Mr Obama meeting a similar fate is etched deep in the collective psyche of many American blacks, particularly those old enough to remember the events of 1968, who overwhelmingly back the Illinois senator over his rival Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Mr Obama tells anyone who raises the subject to "stop worrying" and take comfort in the knowledge that neither Dr King nor Senator Kennedy had the Secret Service with them.
Though his wife Michelle has spoken of safety concerns, the candidate himself plays them down ? partly for fear that some might be dissuaded from voting for him because of a misguided notion of protecting him.
Last month, when his motorcade sped past Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was shot
dead in 1963, Mr Obama said he was too busy focussing on the speech he was about to give even to register what had happened there.
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Mrs Clinton and John McCain, the Republican nominee, are to travel to Memphis for the 40th anniversary commemorations on Friday.
Mr Obama was due to be campaigning that day in Muncie, the Indiana town where on April 4th 1968 Senator Kennedy broke the news to a stunned crowd that Dr King was dead.
His campaign, however, has postponed the Muncie event citing "logistical issues".
At the main bus station in Memphis, a city blighted by urban decay and split evenly between blacks and whites, the grim prospect of Mr Obama's assassination was raised several times without prompting.
"People say that if he makes it, someone will have him killed," said Cheryle Boyd, 47, a cleaner.
"They say it would be the Ku Klux Klan or maybe the Mafia, the ones that got John F. Kennedy. I'm trying not to let it worry me. I pray that if he is elected then he serves his time and goes on with his life. But he's black and if he wins the presidency over a Caucasian then it would be trouble.
"There's some I know that has voted for Hillary because they say that Obama wouldn't last a year."
Gregory Jiles, 44, a concrete factory worker, said: "We've talked
about it at work. If he's elected then it would be a beautiful thing. For us to be able to vote for him is the opportunity of a lifetime but if something happened to him it would prove that the United States hadn't moved forward at all."
Sheryl Goens, 59, a physical therapist, said: "It would be very dangerous for Obama to be elected. He stands for a lot of the same things Martin Luther King stood for plus the Kennedy's are backing him."
Rev Kyles urged people to overcome their anxieties.
"You have to put those fears aside and let the Secret Service do their job."
The worry about an assassination, he suggested, was linked to the early assumption among many blacks that Mr Obama could not win the White House.
"I've almost had to de-programme my own mind. I was saying, 'He'll run a good race but he won't succeed'. But it's kept lasting and lasting
and lasting. Wow, this is exciting.
"One of the thrills I got was seeing people holding out little white babies for him to kiss."
What would Dr King think of Mr Obama's campaign?
"He'd be jubilant. And I am too. I knew it would happen but I didn't know when and I wasn't expecting it this soon."