Hubert Humphrey on Civil Rights

I found this 1948 speech by Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, who was then a candidate for the senate and later became vice-president under Lyndon Johnson, defending Black Civil rights in The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Protest, ed. by Brian MacArthur (London: Penguin 1998).

We are here as Democrats. But more important, as Americans – and I firmly believe that as men concerned with our country’s future, we must specify in our platform the guarantees which I have mentioned.

Yes, this is far more than a party matter. Every citizen has a stake in the emergence of the United States as the leader of 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 cannot use a double standard for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantees of those practiced in our own country.

We are God-fearing men and women. We place our faith in the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.

I do not believe that there can be any compromise of the guarantees of civil rights which I have mentioned.

In spite of my desire for unanimous agreement on the platform, there are some matters which I think must be stated without qualification. There can be no hedging – no watering down.

There are those who say to you we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.

There are those who say this issue of civil rights is an infringement on states’ rights. 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.

People – human beings – this is the issue of the twentieth century. People – all kinds and all sorts of people – look to America for leadership, for help, for guidance.

My friends, my fellow Democrats, I ask you for a calm consideration of our historic opportunity. Let us forget the evil passions, the blindness of the past. In these times of world economic, political and spiritual, above all, spiritual-crisis, we cannot, 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. Now is the time to recall those who were left on that path of American freedom.

For all of us her, for the millions who have sent us, for the whole 2 billion members of the human family, our land is now, more than ever, the last best hope on earth. I know that we can – I now that we shall – begin here the fuller and richer realization of that hope, that promise of a land where all men are free and equal, and each man uses his freedom and equality wisely and well. (pp. 205-6).

I thought Humphrey’s speech need restating after Donald Trump’s election victory and the very real danger he now poses to freedom and equality in America. Trump’s surrounded and supported by Fascists. He’s promoted a racist and anti-Semite, Steven Bannon, as his chief strategist in the White House and is now preparing to initiate legislation require Muslims to be registered, as if they were enemy aliens. All of them, even if they are innocent of anything even remotely anti- or un-American.

And where Trump leads, I fear Europe will follow. He has an ally in Nigel Farage, many members of whose party, UKIP, are venomously xenophobic and bitterly anti-Muslim. Then there’s the threat of Marine Le Pen and the Front National in France, and the Alternative fuer Deutschland in Germany. Not to mention the waves of Fascist intolerance now spreading throughout eastern Europe, most notably in Hungary with Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party.

The civil rights struggle in America was a profound inspiration and influence on Black people’s struggle for civil rights here in the UK. There is, or was, even a civil rights museum in Birmingham. That’s the Birmingham over here, not Birmingham, Alabama. Decent Europeans and Americans need to stand together against this new Fascist threat against freedom, equality, toleration, human dignity and everything liberals have campaigned for since the French Revolution.

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