Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Day speech, House Floor

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a great honor for me to give my first speech in this House on this occasion.

Central to Dr. King’s vision and to this experiment in democracy we carry on here is the belief that free men and women must give their consent to be governed. That our equality as human beings entitles us to a say in the proceedings of government.

A week ago today, Mr. Speaker, I was in awe as we stood here and took our oaths to do our best in this work we’ve been given. We come here to these chambers by way of the ballot box. We enter beyond those curtains by the votes of our equals.

Mr. Speaker, I haven’t quite learned all the ropes of this place yet, but I came to Olympia knowing this: we are representatives, and that means we are duty-bound to the people who sent us. We represent all of them, each of us in our own districts, regardless of sex, color, or creed. 

The story of civil rights in Washington State is long and rich and often unremembered. Mr. Speaker, I hope we can do more in our state to tell that story. It has so much to do with our work here, and with those who have worked here before us.

It’s the story of Frances Axtell from Bellingham and Nena Croake from Tacoma who became the first women to serve in this body in 1912. It’s the more familiar story of Warren Magnuson, the State Representative from Seattle who later went on to author the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s the story of Owen Bush, our state’s first black legislator when the state was formed in 1889.

But it was almost six decades before another black legislator came to this chamber. His name was Charles Stokes. I have been learning about Representative Stokes these past few weeks. He was a Republican from Seattle. He was a lawyer and later a King County District Judge. As an NAACP leader, he took an active role in pushing for the 1949 Washington State Fair Employment Practices Act. The following year, 1950, Stokes was elected to this body and served for three nonconsecutive terms. During the Korean War he gave a speech on this floor about the patriotism of black Americans, for which his colleagues gave him a standing ovation.

But it was in 1957 that Representative Charles Stokes helped to pass one of the greatest pieces of legislation in our state’s history. It was Omnibus House Bill 25, and I have a copy of it from the State Archives on my desk if any of my colleagues would like to see it afterwards. Omnibus House Bill 25 was Washington State’s Civil Rights Act. Mr. Speaker, would you grant me permission to read from this bill?

Isn’t that beautiful, Mr. Speaker? Nothing more I can say could measure up to the words of that great bill. So I’ll conclude. 

It is right for us to honor the legacy of Dr. King, as it is right for us to honor the men and women who came before us in this Chamber,
Who stood for civil rights.
May we do our part
To be like them
In this time we’ve been given.