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Hubert H. Humphrey: Mayor, Senator, and Vice-President: Overview

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Hubert H. Humphrey, 1965

Hubert H. Humphrey burst onto the Minnesota political scene in 1945, when he was elected mayor of Minneapolis. To the office, he brought a high level of energy that fueled his populist spirit and reformer's zeal. At that time, anti-Semitism and discrimination against blacks and other minorities were rife in Minneapolis. Humphrey set out to change the social climate through moral suasion, and the unfair policies and practices, through political and legislative action. It was a dangerous course that he set for himself in 1940s U.S., with segregation and Jim Crow laws still firmly in place.

In 1948, under his leadership, Minneapolis enacted the nation's first municipal fair employment law. Buoyed, he went on to deliver a fiery speech at the 1948 Democratic national convention, an impassioned plea urging that a strong civil rights plank be included in the Democratic platform. Although the speech was not well received, Humphrey was instrumental in spurring the convention to add a civil rights plank to their platform.

That November, Minnesotans elected Humphrey to the United States Senate, making him the first Democrat from Minnesota ever elected to that exalted position. Apprenticeship to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, a savvy student of power, then in his ascendancy, helped Humphrey to gain eventual "admittance to the club." A voluble and passionate speaker, he could wind up a crowd in the best tradition of evangelistic oratory, and he was both admired and derided for it. Minnesotans re-elected Humphrey to the Senate in 1954 and in 1960, thus making possible his part in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Humphrey served in the Senate until he was selected to be Lyndon Johnson's running mate in the presidential campaign of 1964. Johnson and Humphrey won, but the victory was bittersweet. It ushered in the most conflicted and disheartening years of his political career--years of being torn between his need to remain loyal to Johnson's policies and conduct of the Vietnam War, and his own uneasiness about the course the nation was on. His failure to take a clear stand against the war cost him dearly. When he ran for president in 1968, he lost to Richard Nixon by the slim margin of 1% of the popular vote.

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