Hubert Humphrey makes an impassioned plea for civil rights at the Democratic National Convention. His speech offends Southern Democrats, who walk out of the convention, but sets the party on a course toward the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“To those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights–I say to them, we are 172 years late!” -Hubert H. Humphrey at the Democratic National Convention*
Hubert H. Humphrey saw the United States as the emerging leader of the free world after World War II, but dared to question its authenticity. The specters of fascism, communism, and racial balkanization were very real in the aftermath of WWII. It also underscored the dichotomy of winning liberties for those outside the US while ignoring the racial injustices at home. What did he see as the root cause and motive for the Civil Rights movement?
“For us to play our part effectively, we must be in a morally sound position.” ***
Yet, by what means would America redefine itself and reclaim this “morally sound position”? Humphrey posited our need to lead by example of a consistent standard, not a double standard on rights. Humphrey proposed the notion in this address that human rights exceeded the value of states’ rights.
“To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, 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.” ***,****
Further, he willingly threw down the gauntlet of human rights with the full knowledge of its opposition within his own party. The locus of this opposition were Southern Democrats concerned that the Civil Rights movement made our Supreme Court stronger than State law. Their debate over the next decade centered on the Declaration of Constitutional Principles, also known as the “Southern Manifesto”, arguing that the Tenth Amendment limited the Supreme Court from overreach into their State law. See Tenth Amendment below:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Humphrey’s address rang the bell on a sixteen year, tag-team wrestling match of our national conscience. Most legislators agreed that something must be done about racial injustices, but disagreed as to the proper method Constitutionally. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, it had more Republican than Democratic support. The roll call tally of June 19, 1964 shows that 82% Republican “Yeas” and 18% “Nays”, and 69% Democratic “Yeas” and 31% “Nays”. ***** Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona embodied the position of Republican critics. He voted to end segregation, and was an active member of the NAACP, yet objected to Title II and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Why? He felt they could interfere with the rights of a business to do business with or employ whomever they chose. Additionally, he had reservations that these Titles could be misused to usurp States’ rights and free speech of the individual. ******
In all, this riveting oratory decries the courageous heart of Hubert Humphrey. Though viewed as emotional grandstanding to his detractors, he willingly spoke his conscience, and the conscience of millions. He dared ask the question, “What is to be done when America’s head conflicts with our heart?”
So we seek You in this moment, Father. We come to You asking insight and wisdom as to Humphrey’s rhetorical line in the sand. How did this speech affect You?
First, we ask forgiveness for the racism of Humphrey’s era. We have offended You first in our legal, cultural, and personal false assessments of African-Americans. Granted, Minnesota’s culture was less legally overt and more free than many states, but we acknowledge the subtle and quiet prejudices that hurt these brothers and sisters: we tolerated red-lining in housing, we tolerated discriminatory lending practices, in many ways, we zoned African-Americans away from us. We have practiced associating crime with a color, and negated the noble contributions of many minorities. Will You forgive our misbeliefs and unbeliefs? We have denied You when we deny Your Image in our African-American brothers and sisters. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!
Next, we thank You for the life of Hubert H. Humphrey, and the gift You placed in his heart of having the courage of his convictions. Clearly, he was willing to be misunderstood, even by his own, for daring to call out injustice. We commend him in his intense moments at the Democratic National Convention held at Philadelphia Convention Hall on July 12-14, 1948. Will You continue to give us leaders like him who are willing to speak the raw truth in love and respect?
We acknowledge to You the pains of betrayal at the hands of our beloved! WE acknowledge to You the oceans of these judgment’s past. Will You forgive the judgments’ of Democrats towards those of their own, mostly but not limited to Southerners who expressed dissent at Humphrey’s take on civil rights? Will You forgive Democratic dissenters of Humphrey’s vision their counter judgments’ and bitterness? Will You forgive Republicans their judgments’ of those within their party who voiced dissent to the Civil Rights Act? Will You forgive the counter-judgments of those led by Goldwater towards those who supported Humphrey’s ideals?
In this, we may have judged our political opinions to be more sacrosanct than the relationship with the beloved human being in front of us. We have closed our ears to their objections, because it is easier to break relationship than listen to honest criticism of our political and personal doctrines and dogmas. We have feared our detractors, and closed our minds to the wisdom to be gained in real dialogue and debate. You have said, “Come now, let us reason together…” ******* We have turned it to “Come now, you are unreasonable!”
We have offended You in our failure to listen to our friends, and hear out our opposition in our zeal for our rights. We have attempted to gain a more just America, too often, by too much political and legal force. We have attempted to heal the bitter judgments towards African-Americans through bitterly judging those who disagree with our version of justice for African-Americans. Will You forgive and heal us then, free us in the present, and bless the future of Civil Rights? May we come to agree with Our Creator as to the worthiness and inherent value of every human being made in Your Image. We have failed to learn our lesson from the world’s first sibling rivalry where Cain hated and murdered his brother Abel over doing a good thing; an offering of thanks?!? In this we are 5778 years too late!
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
** Photo credit: smithsonianmag.com
*** See transcript of this famous speech. (1948) Blackpast. “Hubert Humphry, Speech at the Democratic National Convention” December 14, 2010. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1948-hubert-humphrey-speech-democratic-national-convention/
**** See HHH give this speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xQZX5ZvcnY
***** See a photo of the official roll call vote. The Center for Legislative Archives “Roll Call Tally on Civil Rights Act 1964, June 19, 1964” On June 19, 1964, the Senate passed the Civil Right Act of 1964; 73 to 27. The House passed the amended bill on July 2; 289 to 126. https://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/civil-rights-1964/senate-roll-call.html
****** Mooney, Kevin J. “The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Conservative Movement”, November 14, 2013. https://www.theblaze.com/contributions/the-1964-civil-rights-act-and-the-conservative-movement