From Miami, Florida, on July 8, 1948, Henry T. Moore wrote to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey. Mr. Moore was the Executive Secretary of the Progressive Voters League of Florida representing 80,000 “Negro” registered voters. Hubert Humphrey was the Mayor of Minneapolis and a member of the Platform Committee at the 1948 Democratic National Convention.
At issue was the proposed civil rights plank for the platform of the 1948 Democratic Convention. Modest by today’s standards, the platform plank’s call was essential for civil rights supporters and incendiary to Southern Democrats – who were threatening to bolt the party and deprive Harry Truman of a chance to win the 1948 election.
Writing to the future Senator, Vice President and a Senate architect of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Mr. Moore wrote:
“We are now at the crossroads. Either we must face the facts and work earnestly for a practical application of these democratic ideals that we have preached to the rest of the world, or we must shamefully admit that our American democracy is little more than a ‘sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.’”
Six days later, on July 14, 1948, in Philadelphia, PA, Humphrey gave one of the most famous speeches in American political history challenging the delegates, Democratic Party, and nation to “walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
Humphrey’s evocation of 172 years of American aspiration for human rights was born on the prairie of Doland, South Dakota, and germinated in the streets of Minneapolis.
If the states are the “laboratories of democracy” in the words of Louis D. Brandeis, then Humphrey experimented in a city labeled – with some hyperbole – “the capital of anti-Semitism in the United States.” If Carey McWilliams and Common Ground was being overly dramatic in the eyes of local expert Charles Cooper, the entrenched discrimination and prejudice against Jews, African Americans, Native Americans and Japanese Americans was all too real. All three groups faced discrimination in employment and housing.
Endorsed by a blue ribbon commission, Humphrey challenged Minneapolis’ discrimination with the creation of one of the nation’s first Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) in 1947.
Its membership reflected the coalition which advanced civil rights in Minneapolis.
The first chair was George Jenson, branch manager of the Nash Kelvinator company and co-chair of the Minnesota branch of National Conference of Christians and Jews.
A Jewish member of the FEPC – and its chairman beginning in 1949 – was attorney Amos Deinard of the Leonard, Street and Deinard firm. (He was the other co-chair of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.)
An African-American member of the FEPC was attorney Raymond Cannon, director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center and a founder of the Minneapolis Urban League.
Jack Jorgenson, Vice President of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union and Teamster’s President, was the representation of organized labor on the FEPC.
In its first year, the FEPC received 75 complaints including employment discrimination: the complaints were 51 (African American); 17 (Jewish); 3 (Native American); and 1 (Japanese American). Nationally, in 1947, President Harry Truman desegregated by executive order the United States Armed Forces.
The FEPC, in 1947, acted administratively to address noxious hiring procedures which abetted employment discrimination.
A Minneapolis Tribune newspaper clipping (date unknown) from the Amos Deinard file at the University of Minnesota’s Anderson Library bears the headline: “FEPC BANS EMPLOYER BID FOR PICTURE.” The Commission outlawed the practice of asking job applicants for a picture as well as forbidding a “query” of an applicant’s “race, creed, color or national origin” – language which became part of the 1964 Civil rights Act.
It has been 100 years since Hubert Humphrey’s birth and 63 years since the “bright sunshine” speech was given on a sultry night in the city which gave the world our Declaration of Independence and Constitution – with its “compromises” on slavery. The action and voice of a Minnesotan rose above the din of a convention and history in a symphony of civil rights.