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Humphrey is still state’s ‘favorite son’

Three decades after his death, Humphrey is still remembered for his influence on the state and U.
Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III cut the birthday cake to celebrate his fathers 100th birthday. Hubert Humphrey celebration was at the Hennepin Country Government Center Plaza on May 26,2011.
Image by Anthony Kwan
Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III cut the birthday cake to celebrate his fathers 100th birthday. Hubert Humphrey celebration was at the Hennepin Country Government Center Plaza on May 26,2011.

Hubert H. Humphrey had the perfect personality for public office.

The former mayor of Minneapolis, U.S. Senator and vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson was lauded for his tireless work ethic, his compassion and his ability to persuade.

But maybe his most impressive trait was the ability to remember people, no matter their title.

Retired nurse Ellen Miele first met Humphrey while living in Minnetonka. Twenty-five years later, Humphrey met MieleâÄôs daughter.

Although Miele was just a campaign supporter, Humphrey remembered her face, even if the name was different.

âÄúHe said to my daughter, âÄòEllen, you look great. You havenâÄôt aged a day,âÄôâÄù Miele said Thursday, wearing a 1968 Humphrey-Muskie button from his unsuccessful presidential campaign.

On Friday, 100 years after HumphreyâÄôs birth, Minnesotans came together to remember the stateâÄôs âÄúfavorite son,âÄù and to reflect on his influence on the state and the University of Minnesota.

âÄúHe never left his roots in Minnesota âÄî he was always a champion of everything positive and good in Minnesota,âÄù University Provost Tom Sullivan said in an interview. âÄúSo in many ways, his name is inextricably linked with our University.âÄù

From the kitchen to the U.S. Senate

Since their days at the University, Orville and Jane Freeman were close friends with Humphrey and his wife Muriel.

Jane Freeman remembered Humphrey as charming and intelligent when talking politics with friends.

Before he became governor of Minnesota in 1955, Orville Freeman and Humphrey were teammates on the University debate team, which was perfect practice for their political careers, Jane Freeman said.

Humphrey never used note cards, she said.

âÄúHumphrey would stand up and pull quotes from the Bible, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence,âÄù she said. âÄúAnd the two never lost a Big Ten debate.âÄù

While they were dating, the Freemans often attended gatherings at HumphreyâÄôs home. The meetings were usually segregated âÄî women and children in the living room, and the men in the kitchen, talking politics.

Because she wasnâÄôt married and didnâÄôt have a child, Jane Freeman joined the âÄúkitchen talksâÄù with the other men.

During this time, Humphrey began testing out his ideas that would guide him through his career, she said.

Orville Freeman eventually became a staff member for Humphrey while he was the mayor of Minneapolis. A decade later, Freeman became governor of Minnesota while Humphrey was in the U.S. Senate.

The U was âÄúan opportunityâÄù

Jane Freeman said her husband and Humphrey always thought of the University as the place that gave them their start.

Humphrey began taking classes at the University in 1929, when the Great Depression hit and his parents could no longer afford to have two children in college. Humphrey returned to Huron, S.D., to help his father in the family drugstore.

There, he met Muriel Fay Buck, who he married before returning to the University in 1937.

âÄúBoth of them said âÄòWe need to get out of Huron,âÄôâÄù said HumphreyâÄôs 68-year-old son Hubert âÄúSkipâÄù Humphrey III. âÄúThey really needed to get back to the University. ThatâÄôs what really opened up life for him.âÄù

Humphrey earned his bachelorâÄôs degree in 1939, went on to get a masterâÄôs degree from Louisiana State University a year later and began a life of public service.

He began as mayor of Minneapolis in 1945, and he went on to serve as a U.S. Senator until he was elected vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. After a defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election, Humphrey returned to the University to teach in 1969.

Hy Berman, then-chairman of the social science program, said there was concern on campus that Humphrey would be a hated figure among students. While serving as vice president, Humphrey was seen as a symbol of the Vietnam War, which University students almost âÄúuniversally opposed.âÄù

âÄúThat fear never materialized,âÄù Berman said. âÄúAs soon as he walked into a classroom, he won everybody over.âÄù

Berman said HumphreyâÄôs popularity was due to his openness with students and his availability to discuss readings and assignments outside of the classroom.

Humphrey returned to the United States Senate in 1971, and just a year before his death in 1978, helped found the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs, since renamed the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

âÄúThe whole idea of the institute, and fostering the ideals that he grew up with, was terribly important to him,âÄù Skip Humphrey said.

A lasting influence

Speaking to a crowd in front of the Hennepin County Government Center Thursday, just feet from where HumphreyâÄôs statue stands outside of city hall, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak reflected on HumphreyâÄôs influence on his life.

RybakâÄôs father, like HumphreyâÄôs, was a pharmacist. Although his mother was a staunch Republican, the only politicianâÄôs portrait on display in their Minneapolis home was of Humphrey.

As Rybak touted HumphreyâÄôs accomplishments as mayor âÄî eliminating political corruption and advancing civil rights in what was considered the most anti-Semitic city in the nation âÄî he reflected on his famous speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention.

In what some call one of the most important political speeches in American history, Humphrey passionately argued the Democratic Party should oppose segregation.

 âÄúThe time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of statesâÄô rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights,âÄù Humphrey famously told the delegation.

The speech threatened to tear the party apart along divisions over support of segregation, but Democratic candidate Harry Truman won the presidency in an upset, and the speech helped propel Humphrey to the U.S. Senate that same year.

âÄúI literally canâÄôt hear [that speech] without choking up,âÄù Rybak said. âÄúThose of us who get up here and do this for a living know when thereâÄôs an urgency in someoneâÄôs voice. He was a person that recognized the consequence of what he was saying.âÄù

The fight for civil rights defined HumphreyâÄôs career. He helped craft the Civil Rights Act, which became law in 1964.

âÄúThe Forgotten LiberalâÄù

A newcomer to Minnesota could probably measure HumphreyâÄôs influence on the state by the number of buildings named after him âÄî the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Humphrey School, and the Humphrey Airport Terminal (recently renamed Terminal 2).

Berman remembers HumphreyâÄôs death in 1978 as a day of mourning nationwide. But thereâÄôs some question of how big his legacy is outside the state.

Citing his âÄúspokesmanâÄù role in the Vietnam War and his colleagues distancing themselves from his economic policies, the New York Times dubbed Humphrey the âÄúForgotten LiberalâÄù

âÄúNot in Minnesota,âÄù Sullivan said.

HumphreyâÄôs influence on MinnesotaâÄôs politics is felt in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which he helped create. But those who knew or met him remember Humphrey because he identified with them, Berman said.

âÄúHe was fundamentally one of us,âÄù Berman said. âÄúHe mingled with ordinary people and people liked that.âÄù

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