Image - speaker photo, book cover, Hubert Humphrey
Past Event

The Young Hubert Humphrey: Fighter for Civil Rights

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.

MLF Organizer
George Hammond

A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Bernard Osher Foundation

Photo by Gabriela Bhaskar.

July 20, 2023

The Commonwealth Club of California
110 The Embarcadero
Toni Rembe Rock Auditorium
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Image - Samuel Freedman

Samuel Freedman

Professor of Journalism, Columbia University; Author, Into the Bright Sunshine: Young Hubert Humphrey and the Fight for Civil Rights

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates