As Republican Senator Trent Lott celebrates the history of his 100 year-old hero, Strom Thurmond, I think it is only right for Democrats to celebrate the memory of the man who made Thurmond a national figure: Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.
Champion of the downtrodden, Humphrey changed the face of the national Democratic party with his dramatic speech demanding civil rights for black Americans at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. When the delegates narrowly approved Humphrey's proposal, Southern Democrats, led by Strom Thurmond, walked out. They angrily formed the Dixiecrat Party, nominated Thurmond for president, and carried four states, including Lott's Mississippi . But Harry Truman won the election anyway, thanks in no small part to black voters and liberals attracted by Humphrey's courageous stand. Minnesota responded by sending the 37 year-old activist to the Senate. His nemesis, Thurmond, would soon follow, dogging Humphrey's every effort to bring about civil rights legislation throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Thurmond became a Republican which initiated the gradual Southern retreat from its old allegiance to the once conservative Democratic party. While Senator Thurmond engaged in endless filibusters to protect the status quo, the visionary Senator Humphrey proposed the Post Hospital Care for the Aged, which eventually became Medicare, the Peace Corps (erroneously credited to JFK in most history books), the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the legislation he was most proud of: the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I'm glad that Trent Lott is proud of Strom Thurmond. By praising the old segregationist, he has educated a lot of Americans who might otherwise be oblivious to our recent past. But best of all, he has enabled us to remember Hubert H. Humphrey, one of the last truly courageous senators in American history.