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Hubert Humphrey’s Centennial

May 27, 1911

Photo of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota

In 2011 the Senate passed a resolution commemorating the 100th birthday of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, who was born in Wallace, South Dakota, on May 27, 1911. Humphrey trained to be a pharmacist like his father, but government and politics became his passion and eventually took him to Minnesota as a professor of political science. He became mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 and achieved national attention by advocating a strong civil rights plank in the Democratic platform of 1948. That year, Hubert Humphrey also won election as a senator from Minnesota.

Senator Humphrey was a gifted orator, but his stand on civil rights caused him to be shunned by the southern senators who chaired the most important committees, putting his legislative career in danger of becoming all talk with no results. It was Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, then rising in the Democratic leadership, who identified Humphrey as a useful ally, and coached him on how to become an effective legislator.

During the 1950s Humphrey blossomed into a capable, creative, and highly esteemed senator, which led to his election as Democratic whip in 1961. His crowning moment came when he served as manager for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since Mississippi senator James Eastland would have blocked the bill within the Judiciary Committee, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield decided that the only way around Eastland would be to handle the committee work right on the floor of the Senate. Mansfield never considered anyone but Hubert Humphrey for floor manager. He knew that Humphrey had a gift for mastering legislative technicalities, a full grasp of all the issues involved, and strong ties to the civil rights groups and labor unions that could exert influence on senators to support the bill.

Humphrey appointed seven "title captains," one for each of the bill’s seven titles. During the lengthy filibuster, he set up a duty roster of senators ready to establish a quorum at any time. Although he counted on support from liberal Democrats and Republicans, he recognized that they could not achieve the two-thirds vote needed to invoke cloture without support from conservatives as well. He courted Republican Leader Everett Dirksen, and arranged for the planning meetings with administration officials to be held in Dirksen’s office. When those negotiations reached their conclusion, and he knew he had the votes, Humphrey commented that he felt “like someone going off a ski jump the first time and landing on his feet.”

Hubert Humphrey went on to be elected vice president, and then lost the presidential election of 1968 by just three-tenths of one percent. Shaking off that defeat, he returned to the U.S. Senate, always a “Happy Warrior” in politics and an untiring advocate of economic security, civil rights, and social justice for all.