The Young Hubert Humphrey: Fighter for Civil Rights

With Samuel Freedman

This July is the 75th anniversary of the critical 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, during which Hubert Humphrey, then the mayor of Minneapolis, gave a stirring and surprisingly successful speech asking the Democratic Party to commit itself to civil rights and to ending segregation. This caused the southern Dixiecrats to walk out and to run Strom Thurman for president—in order to teach the Democrats a lesson. But Truman’s upset win over Dewey, caused in no small part by a surge of support from Black voters in northern cities, taught the Democrats a totally different lesson, and set the stage for Truman’s desegregation of the military. That led to Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery bus boycotts of the 1950s, and to the civil rights legislation that LBJ, with the help of his Vice President Hubert Humphrey, pushed through Congress in the 1960s.

Freedman presents a revisionist and riveting look at the American politician whom history has judged a loser because his vice presidency ended in disgrace during the Vietnam War, partially due to the chaos surrounding the also contentious 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago—after which Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon.

Yet Humphrey played a key leadership role in the greatest social movement of the 20th century. Freedman explores Humphrey’s early life, from a remote, all-white hamlet in South Dakota to the political heights of Minnesota, as he tackles its notorious racism and anti-Semitism and solidifies his role as a national champion of multiracial democracy. His allies in that struggle include a Black newspaper publisher, a Jewish attorney, and a professor who had fled Nazi Germany. His adversaries are the white supremacists, Christian Nationalists, and America Firsters of mid-century America—one of whom tried to assassinate him.

Celebrating one of the often overlooked landmarks of civil rights history, Freedman illuminates the early life and enduring legacy of the man who helped bring it about.