I was looking recently through the list of speeches on Deval Patrick's website, looking for a quote in response to a comment on this blog and I noticed that there was one missing. It's the speech Patrick gave over twelve years ago when he took the reigns as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights division. The reason I bring it up now is because you can hear so many echoes of that speech in his campaign today. He was speaking then of America's commitment to civil rights and to bringing about an end to discrimination. The message is powerful and it's one of the reasons why I'm supporting Deval Patrick at this weekend's convention.
Here are some excerpts:
Our true mission is to restore the great moral imperative that
civil rights is finally all about.
This nation, as I see it, has a creed. That creed is deeply rooted in the concepts of equality, opportunity and fair play.
Our faith in that creed has made us a prideful nation, and enabled us to accomplish feats of extraordinary achievement and uplift.
And yet, in the same instant, we see racism and unfairness all around us. In the same instant, we see acts of unspeakable cruelty and even violence because of race, or ethnicity, or gender, or disability, or sexual orientation.
They present a legal problem, to be sure. But they also pose a moral dilemma. How can a national founded on such principles, dedicated to such a creed, sometimes fall so short?
And let me assure you: That is a question asked not just by intellectuals and pundits of each other. It is asked by simple, every day people of each other and of themselves, in barber shops and across kitchen tables, in the mind's silent voice on the bus ride home from work, in the still, small times when conscience calls.
To be a civil rights lawyer, you must understand what the laws mean. But to understand civil rights, you must understand how it feels; how it feels to be hounded by uncertainty and fear about whether you will be fairly treated; how it feels to be trapped in someone else's stereotype, to have people look right through you.
To understand civil rights, you must understand that the victims of discrimination feel a deep and helpless pain, and ask themselves bitterly the very question of morality I have just posed.
And what will be our answer? Will we sit back and claim that we have no answer, or that it is not our business to devise one?
Will we shrink from the moral dimension of our work? Well, let me tell you now: We will not shrink.
Of my new colleagues in the Civil Rights Division, I ask from you your most solemn commitment and resolve, and all of the force of intellect I know you amply possess.You can find the rest of the speech by searching the Congressional Record, thanks to Senator John Kerry, who had it entered in. Unfortunately, the Library of Congress does not allow permanent links to content.
Bring to your task, and to ours, your hard work and your faith in the American promise. And with it, we can create opportunity. And we can also inspire hope.
Bring to this task intellectual honesty, determination, imagination, and humanity. And we cannot and will not fail.
Of the American people, those here and elsewhere, I ask you only this: Give us your commitment to equality. Give us your sense of history and of the great unfinished agenda which derives from it.
And we will set your hearts afire, and help you know what I know about what is possible in America.