Mondale talks about role in civil rights movement

by Tammy Tucker

The civil rights movement exploded onto the American political scene during the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
In a speech at Ted Mann Concert Hall on Friday, former U.S. vice president and Minnesota senator Walter Mondale spoke about his role in the history-making convention.
Mondale was a key participant in a compromise offered to civil rights leaders wanting a voice in the Democratic Party.
The civil rights leaders from segregated Mississippi, who had been brutalized and denied the right to vote or participate in the political process, organized a delegation for the democratic convention, demanding recognition by the party.
The battles between the Southern Democratic establishment and African-American leaders that ensued tore the Democratic Party apart and helped define modern-day party lines.
“In 1964, this group of courageous people fought to open up the political process in Mississippi to black citizens,” Mondale said.
“They took their cause to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where they forced the party to confront the ugly segregation in its midst,” he continued.
Mondale said he and fellow Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey helped propose a compromise that held the convention together and allowed Lyndon B. Johnson to win the party’s nomination for president.
The 1964 presidential campaign was of keen interest to most Americans. President Kennedy had been assassinated less than a year before, the Vietnam conflict was becoming a hot issue and civil unrest was erupting across the South.
Johnson told Humphrey to find a solution and keep the party together in order to be his vice presidential running mate. Mondale, who was Minnesota’s attorney general at the time, led the subcommittee charged by Humphrey with finding the compromise, Mondale explained.
After days of negotiations and a lot of hard feelings, the Mississippi civil rights delegation rejected the compromise of two delegate seats offered by his subcommittee and completely left the convention, Mondale continued.
As a result of the 1964 convention, many African-American leaders abandoned the idea of civil disobedience and working within the political system.
“They mobilized for black power rather than integration,” Mondale said.
As the Democratic Party struggled to include African-Americans during the next few years, many Southern white voters fled to the Republican Party.
This realignment of voters during the 1960s made the parties become more ideologically separate, said David Ghere, General College associate professor of history.
Before 1964, both parties had liberal and conservative wings. Over the last 30 years, conservatives have become concentrated in the Republican Party and liberals in the Democratic Party, he said.
Not everyone agreed Mondale and Humphrey did the right thing by compromising at the convention. Rev. Edwin King, a white member of the 1964 civil rights delegation, said they should have fought for the inclusion of all civil rights leaders, not just two.
Mondale’s lecture was part of the first in a series of speeches and panels titled “Fifty Years: The Mondale Lectures on Public Service.” These speeches seek to create a historical record of Mondale’s public career and to inform younger Americans about their responsibility in the political process.
Mondale said he would “encourage young people to see that difference can be made if they get involved.”
Look what happened in 1964, he added, when a few disfranchised African-Americans changed the Democratic Party and American politics.

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