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Now I better understand why I've always been terrified of drought.

Insight came as I read the terrific new book about Hubert Humphrey's early years, "Into the Bright Sunshine," by journalist and Columbia University Prof. Samuel G. Freedman.

It hit me as I read Freedman's descriptions of young Hubert: His pain — and his parents' shame — on losing their house in Doland, S.D. His sorrow on being forced to abandon his studies at the University of Minnesota for lack of funds. His horror as a huge dust storm overtook Huron, S.D., in November 1933.

That's my family's story too, I thought as I read. My mother's kinfolk were South Dakota farmers. Both of my grandparents came of age on farms that prospered as commodity prices soared during World War I, then failed when prices collapsed in the 1920s and drought, dust and grasshoppers came in the 1930s. Farms on both sides of mom's family were lost.

Their story was common throughout the Dakotas. Nearly 20 years of economic despair permanently altered the lives that experienced them and affected the trajectories — and attitudes — of the generations that followed. Grim stories about "the dirty '30s" are likely behind my dismay when rain doesn't come.

One need not have South Dakota roots to find something personal in Freedman's telling of Humphrey's story, however. A tie to Minneapolis will do.

The Minneapolis Humphrey encountered when he arrived in the city — first in 1929, then again in 1931, 1937 and 1940 — was a place in which Black and Jewish residents routinely encountered blatant discrimination.

It was a city in which a Black family suffered two years of brutal harassment after buying a house in a white neighborhood. Where civic auditoriums hosted fascist rallies to promote the segregation and brutalization of Jews, echoing the spectacles in Nazi Germany. Where police could beat a Black man nearly to death because they didn't like his pose, then see to it that the victim, not the cops, faced criminal charges.

That happened to a man named Curtis Jordan in 1937 — and is bound make readers think about a man named George Floyd in 2020.

Freedman's illumination of several of this region's shared traumas makes his book a particular gift to Minnesota and Dakota readers. But the biographer's purpose in relating all that context is to report how Humphrey responded to those circumstances — and there's plenty to appreciate there as well.

Humphrey became what Freedman described to me recently as a "politician of the heart and the gut." To be sure, Humphrey possessed a mighty intellect. But what propelled the political success that made him a mayor, U.S. senator and vice president was his sensitivity to the human face of loss.

It was a face he knew well. He had seen it in the mirror.

Empathy was his motivator. So was a religious conviction whose depth might come as a surprise to readers. Humphrey was steeped in the Social Gospel he heard preached at the Doland Methodist Church. He became convinced that he had a moral obligation to try to improve the human condition — to build "the kingdom of God on earth."

Government action was the best way to do that, he decided. Charity alone wouldn't suffice.

I am sometimes amazed, as I believe Humphrey was, at the durability of a pre-Industrial Age idea: that economic failure is primarily the result of personal shortcomings.

I can assure you that my grandparents worked very hard and lived frugal, sober, upright lives. So did Humphrey's parents. They were among the legions who have been battered by big economic and environmental forces beyond their control.

Likewise, the Black and Jewish populations of Minneapolis were targets of discrimination through no fault of their own. Humphrey identified with their plight, and was bold enough to employ the tools of government to do something about it.

Seventy-five years after Humphrey delivered the Democratic National Convention speech that gives Freedman's book its title, Minnesotans — and South Dakotans — can take pride in Humphrey's accomplishments. As Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, recently told me, Humphrey's "vision, vigor and valor" made him a catalyst — "not the catalyst, but an important one" — for positive change.

But pride today is necessarily mixed with fresh awareness that economic unfairness and racial discrimination are still with us. Even the damned drought is back.

And that's why it's important to tell Humphrey's story now. We're keenly aware that we're a long way from the kingdom. It's good to be reminded that visionary, vigorous, valiant leadership can move us closer to that goal.

Lori Sturdevant is a retired Star Tribune editorial writer. She is at lsturdevant@startribune.com.