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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 56

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This is the grave of Hubert H. Humphrey.

2016-10-21-14-30-29

Born in 1911 in Wallace, South Dakota, Hubert H. Humphrey attended the University of Minnesota. He then went to Louisiana State University for a master’s degree, graduating in 1940. He returned to Minnesota and soon became involved in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which he helped found in 1944. He ran as mayor of Minneapolis in 1945, serving until 1948. Humphrey made fighting racial discrimination the hallmark of his early career, working on this heavily in Minneapolis and then at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. While Harry Truman equivocated on civil rights, Humphrey pushed for an embrace of the issue, leading a floor fight to include a pro-civil rights plank on the platform. This vaulted Humphrey to leadership among nation’s liberals at a time when liberalism was under attack. Humphrey was elected to the Senate that November. The Dixiecrats who ran the Senate hated him and ostracized him in his early years. Once, as Humphrey walked by, Richard Russell told a group of senators “Can you imagine the people of Minnesota sending that damn fool down here to represent them?” But Humphrey became close to Lyndon Johnson, opening doors of power to him. He was a leader in the Senate in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1957, he introduced the first bill in what became the Peace Corps.

Humphrey was also the best friend of organized labor in the Senate. He is most famous for introducing the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act in 1978, the one time since the rise of globalization after 1965 that the nation attempted to take unemployment seriously as a national problem. Sadly, his death that year combined with Jimmy Carter’s fear of inflation to neuter the bill into a big nothing burger. Imagine if Americans were guaranteed a job. Imagine how close we came to that right. What a tragedy that Carter didn’t support it.

Here is Hubert Humphrey’s last speech to labor:

For that matter, here is the Dean Martin hosted roast of Humphrey in 1973. Wow.

Of course Humphrey rose during a time of anti-communism in America. He was at the front lines of that, to the point of including a clause in the McCarran Act that could open concentration camps to house communist subversives. And therefore, Humphrey, like almost every other politician in the United States, supported the Vietnam War. Of course, LBJ had named Humphrey VP in 1964, which the extremely ambitious senator was happy to accept. His support for Vietnam, association with Johnson, and the disaster of the 1968 DNC would cost him the 1968 election, despite the AFL-CIO’s heroic efforts to put him over the top. He so desperately wanted to be president, also running in 1960 and 1972, while considering a run in 1976. It was not to be.

Humphrey was a flawed man, but very much a good man at the core. Unfortunately, he lost in 1968 to a man who ripped the U.S. Constitution into tiny shreds, an election that clearly lacks any parallels to 2016.

Humphrey has not been played in the movies or TV much. Paul Rubenstein played him in the 5 minute short “Eulogy for RFK” which has the following as its plot description: “President Lyndon Johnson, Governor George Wallace, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and former President Richard Nixon take LSD.” Why have I not seen this? Oh now I have:

Well. That was, um, something.

Franklin Cover played him in a 1982 TV biopic of Golda Meir. Don Moss is the king of playing Humphrey, having portrayed him in the 1987 TV film “LBJ: The Early Years” and then again in a few episodes of the mid-90s series “Dark Skies,” about an alien invasion. Thanks to recent interest in LBJ again, portrayals of Humphrey have risen recently, including Bradley Whitford in “All the Way” and Doug McKeon in “LBJ,” both released this year.

Hubert Humphrey is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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