Rick Perlstein's fine remembrance of Hubert Humphrey.
Humphrey made his national political debut in 1948 when, as mayor of Minneapolis and a candidate for Senate, he headed the Minnesota delegation to the Democratic National Convention. There he led a faction insisting the platform include a federal fair employment commission, a controversial goal of the civil rights movement.
Segregationist Southerners threatened to walk out, a move that could have paralyzed the entire fragile Democratic coalition and handed the White House to the Republicans. The Democrats’ first presidential defeat in 16 years might have been laid at the feet of this ambitious 37-year-old.
Humphrey could have been excused for quietly backing down. Instead, the man who had earned the nickname the Happy Warrior gave one of the greatest speeches in American political history.
“To those who say this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights,” he thundered from the convention podium, “I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
The motion carried. The Southerners walked out and ran Strom Thurmond for president. When Harry S. Truman won nonetheless, Democrats were on their way to becoming the party of civil rights. Hubert Humphrey catalyzed that change.