1948 July 14

Democratic Party Convention Adopts Historic Civil Rights Plank


The Democratic Party Convention on this day adopted a strong civil rights plank after a bitter floor figh, rejecting a weaker plank supported by President Harry Truman. The commitment to racial justice by one of the two major political parties was a historic first in the twentieth century, and an important sign of the growing strength of the civil rights movement.

Hubert Humphrey, mayor of Minneapolis and later Vice President of the U.S., established a national reputation with his passionate speech in favor of the plank. In the most inspiring passage of his speech, Humphrey declared, “The time has arrive in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” The web site American Rhetoric lists Humphrey’s speech as one of the 100 greatest speeches in American history. Read the entire speech here.

The civil rights plank caused Southern Democrats to walk out and form their own States’ Rights Party, on July 14, 1948, which nominated Senator Strom Thurmond as its candidate for president. President Truman, meanwhile, took a bold step on behalf of civil rights when he desegregated the armed forces by executive order on July 26, 1948.

Read the historic civil rights plank: “The Democratic Party is responsible for the great civil rights gains made in recent years in eliminating unfair and illegal discrimination based on race, creed or color. The Democratic Party commits itself to continuing its efforts to eradicate all racial, religious and economic discrimination. We again state our belief that racial and religious minorities must have the right to live, the right to work, the right to vote, the full and equal protection of the laws, on a basis of equality with all citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution. We highly commend President Harry S. Truman for his courageous stand on the issue of civil rights. We call upon the Congress to support our President in guaranteeing these basic and fundamental American Principles: (1) the right of full and equal political participation; (2) the right to equal opportunity of employment; (3) the right of security of person; (4) and the right of equal treatment in the service and defense of our nation.

Hear Hubert Humphrey’s famous speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nwIdIUVFm4

Read the dramatic story about the fight over the plank in the biography of Lyndon Johnson: Robert Caro, Means of Ascent (1990)

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