by Jennifer Niemela

Though it’s been 50 years since his pivotal civil rights speech, much of Hubert H. Humphrey’s message still rings true today, speakers said Tuesday.
More than 300 people attended a dinner and reception hosted by the Humphrey Forum honoring the former vice president’s contributions to the civil rights movement. Many say his sentiments, liberal for their time, were summed up in his speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia:
“There are those who say to you we are rushing this issue of civil rights,” Humphrey said in the controversial speech that catapulted him into the national political limelight 50 years ago. “I say we are 172 years too late. The time has arrived for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
Former DFL party chairwoman Geri Joseph reminisced Tuesday about the political ambiance of the United States during Humphrey’s political career.
“We are gathered here to remember a person some don’t want to forget and events we can’t forget,” said
Humphrey Forum director Steve Sandell said Humphrey took a huge political risk by making such a provocative speech because it could have split the Democratic Party in an election year. However, Sandell added the 1964 Civil Rights Act wouldn’t have been passed had the party not adopted the civil rights platform after Humphrey’s speech.
Mayor of Minneapolis when he made the speech, Humphrey went on to become vice president of the United States under Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, before losing the presidential race to Richard Nixon in 1968.
Julian Bond, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chairman, said Humphrey’s speech convinced a significant number of people that civil rights was a national issue that shouldn’t be decided by individual states.
“It’s an old American debate,” Bond said. “In 1948, Hubert Humphrey tipped the balance in the proper direction.”
Journalist Bill Moyers, author Richard Rodriguez and former Mississippi governor William Winter also spoke at the reception, and a group of high school students read Hubert Humphrey’s speech. Rodriguez, Bond and Winter will speak in the House of Representatives chamber at the state Capitol today on the legacy of the civil rights movement.
While Tuesday’s event was intended to honor Humphrey’s contributions to the past, it was also intended to reopen a dialogue on civil rights, Sandell said.
“Americans need to be encouraged to continue this discussion and effort toward the equality of citizens before the law,” Sandell said. “It’s an issue liberals like to talk about, but it’s difficult for any of us to take concerted action. We need to be reinvigorated and encouraged to find another commitment toward this issue of equality.”
Even as the event focused on Hubert Humphrey’s contributions to the political scene during the civil rights movement, the presence of his son, gubernatorial candidate Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III, added a current tenor to a reception intended to honor the past.
Skip Humphrey, begotten of the man Sandell said was the leader of the Minnesota DFL during his career, lost the DFL endorsement earlier this month to Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman. Although Freeman made a public plea Tuesday for Skip Humphrey and other democrats to drop out of the gubernatorial race, Skip Humphrey continues his race for governor.
“Anybody who chooses a career similar to his parents is bound to be compared to that parent,” Sandell said. “Skip chose to run for Attorney General while his dad was a teacher. Skip’s responsibilities are different from his dad’s. The battles are different.”
But while comparisons between father and son are unavoidable, Sandell said it’s important to realize how different the DFL is today than in the past. Political parties aren’t as strongly founded at the grass-roots level, he said, making it easier for independent candidates to win office.
“Politicians speak through television now rather than through grass-roots organizations,” Sandell said, adding that while that might weaken political parties, it doesn’t necessarily weaken the appeal of a candidate.