The year was 1948. The United States was just starting to look ahead after the exhausting period of Word War II, preceded by the Great Depression. The world had changed in those years. Together the country, with their allies, had defeated the scourge of Hitler. A door had opened to working together across the races. The Democratic National Convention was underway. Two reports were before the convention. The Majority Report chose the safe path of States Rights where race relations were involved. The Minority Report encouraged the party to take on the challenge of civil rights. Everyone knew in their hearts which way the decision was leaning. Then Hubert Humphrey stood up, the young upstart from Minnesota. No one expected to be moved by his words, yet his words recorded in 1948 speak to us today.
“Sure, we’re here as Democrats. But my good friends, we’re here as Americans; we’re here as the believers in the principle and the ideology of democracy, and I firmly believe that as men (and women) concerned with our country’s future, we must specify in our platform the guarantees which we have mentioned in the minority report.
Yes, this is far more than a Party matter. Every citizen in this country has a stake in the emergence of the United States as a leader in the free world. That world is being challenged by the world of slavery. For us to play our part effectively, we must be in a morally sound position.
We can’t use a double standard — There’s no room for double standards in American politics — for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantee of those practices in our own country.
Friends, delegates, I do not believe that there can be any compromise on the guarantees of the civil rights which we have mentioned in the minority report. In spite of my desire for unanimous agreement on the entire platform, in spite of my desire to see everybody here in honest and unanimous agreement, there are some matters which I think must be stated clearly and without qualification. There can be no hedging — the newspaper headlines are wrong. There will be no hedging, and there will be no watering down — if you please — of the instruments and the principles of the civil-rights program.
My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. 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. People — human beings — this is the issue of the 20th century. People of all kinds — all sorts of people — and these people are looking to America for leadership, and they’re looking to America for precept and example.
Let us do forget the evil passions and the blindness of the past. In these times of world economic, political, and spiritual — above all spiritual crisis, we cannot and we must not turn from the path so plainly before us. That path has already led us through many valleys of the shadow of death. And now is the time to recall those who were left on that path of American freedom.”
Hubert Humphrey was a hero in my family when I grew up. He later became Vice President and ran for the Presidency. I think back on his life and his courage and think of the unfinished work that remains that all people are able to live in places of justice. After he spoke the convention narrowly supported the Minority Report and put Civil Rights as a significant part of that platform.
The entire speech can be found here: American Rhetoric: Hubert Humphrey 1948 Democratic Convention Speech