How Hubert Humphrey Tried to Make Minneapolis, and America, Less Racist

In 'Into the Bright Sunshine,' Samuel G. Freedman makes the case that Humphrey was part of the vanguard in the fight for civil rights.

How Hubert Humphrey Tried to Make Minneapolis, and America, Less Racist

The issue of race has not threatened to derail the Democratic Party so much since 1924 when Democrats debated whether or not they should fight the Klan. Or in 1860 when Democrats were divided over slavery. Southern delegates rebelled as liberals tried to pass legislation against lynching and end poll taxes.

Freedman tells a story of backdoor deals at the convention about the wording of a civil-rights plank in the final chapter of his book. Humphrey gave a speech in support of a strong pledge to the millions who listened on their radios and TVs. He said that the time had come to move out of the shadows cast by states' rights, and into the sunshine of human right.

Humphrey's seat in the U.S. Senate was secured by Humphrey after he pushed for a stronger civil rights platform. Southern delegates left the convention and founded the Dixiecrat Party, which nominated South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond as its presidential candidate. Harry Truman won the race for the presidency because Black voters from California, Ohio, and Illinois helped him gain the balance of power. It is likely that without these states, the election would have been decided by a Southern Democratic-dominated House. Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat, might have been elected president.

'Into the Bright Sunshine,' is released on the 75th anniversary Humphrey gave his convention speech. This comes two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action for higher education. Minneapolis, once dubbed the antisemitism capital by journalist Carey McWilliams in 1946, is no more. Humphrey’s rise to national prominence was Minneapolis's defeat: Decades less courageous of political work undid the progress Humphrey and others had made. The hatred of Jews is rising across the country, and Minneapolis remains a symbol of the work that needs to be done in order to end systemic racism.

Khalil Gibran is a Harvard Kennedy School professor and author of "The Condemnation Of Blackness".