On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Deval Patrick, the state’s first African-American governor, said immense progress has been made, but invoked voter identification laws in the South and the Trayvon Martin controversy to argue there is work yet to be done.
“I think the struggle we have in this country is striking the balance between the extraordinary progress we have made and acknowledging how much progress we have yet to make,” Patrick said, speaking to the reporters at the Old South Meeting House in Boston.
He said the “country crossed a huge divide by setting race to one side” and electing President Obama, and acknowledged that his own election in 2006 was also evidence of progress.
But, he said, challenges remain.
“At the time of the March on Washington, it was in the immediate wake of poll taxes and Emmett Till,” Patrick said. “And fifty years later, the commemoration is in the wake of voter suppression laws in North Carolina and Texas and Trayvon Martin.”
“That fact is not a source of discouragement for me, it’s a reminder... eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson.
Patrick said he was seven years old when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and recalled his grandparents warming up a “big old black and white TV” before he watched the event.
He said King’s speech “pricks our conscience today, just as it did fifty years ago, to look forward and think about what we must do to commit to those ideals that make this country so extraordinary.”
The governor also recalled going to another King speech in Chicago around the time of the March on Washington. While Patrick said he didn’t remember the specific words that King spoke that day, he recalled what it felt like.
“I remember that feeling of being connected to all those people in that park, people like me, people of limited means but limitless hope,” he said.
As part of the commemoration of King’s speech, bells across the country were rung at 3 p.m. today.
A few minutes before the top of the hour, Patrick ascended the steep, winding steps of the Old South Meeting House onto a small, dark landing. He grabbed a rope with both hands and, when given the cue by staff there, pulled hard. As he continued to ring the bell, Patrick smiled widely.
“You’re ringing a bell Paul Revere cast,” said Robin DeBlosi, the director of marketing at the Old South Meeting House.
“That’s a beautiful sound,” Patrick said.
The event at the historic building was Patrick’s first significant encounter with the press in 28 days. He has spent much of the last month out of the public eye in his second home in the Berkshires.
He said just because he was away from Beacon Hill did not mean he was not working.
“The governor is always on duty. My job is more than just standing in front of cameras and doing press [availabilities],” he said. “It involves reading and preparing, having meetings and having phone calls and I’ve been doing that every day.”