The Great Legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey

Anne L. Howard-Tristani, Niece of Hubert H. Humphrey

image002-229x3002014 marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act recently celebrated by three former presidents – Carter, Clinton and Bush – and President Obama at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. While Lyndon Johnson is rightly praised for having been a driving force behind this historic act, Hubert H. Humphrey should also be recognized for his invaluable contributions to the 1964 and subsequent Civil Rights bills. Friends, family and staff of the late U.S. vice president and senator from Minnesota have always known that the votes for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would not have occurred had it not been for Humphrey’s masterful and skillful legislative work as the floor leader of the Civil Rights Bill while Senate majority whip. But there is more history to HHH’s legacy than one single act.

Humphrey devoted over 30 years of his public life and work as mayor of Minneapolis (1945-1948), U.S. senator (1948-1964), 38th vice president of the United States (1965-69) and U.S. senator once again (1971-1978), to fighting for human and civil rights. Best known to the public was his fiery speech at the 1948 Democratic Presidential Convention when Humphrey called on delegates to “get out of the darkness of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights” by adopting the Minority Civil Rights Plank. Humphrey’s speech resulted in the Democratic Party including a strong Civil Rights plank in the presidential platform that year, but it also caused South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and the Southern “Dixiecrats” to walk out of the convention and form their own States’ Rights Party. Humphrey’s bold move could have cost Truman the election in 1948 and his own seat in the U.S. Senate but victory was ultimately achieved for Truman, Humphrey and Civil Rights that year.

The year 2014 also marks the 35th anniversary of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, created in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, to honor the late U.S. vice president and senator’s legacy. The Fellowship Program was established by Carter to honor Humphrey’s “exemplary leadership, devotion to public service and courageous efforts to promote greater global justice and peace” following Humphrey’s death on January 13th, 1978. What many people may not know is that the Humphrey Fellowship Program is one of the greatest living legacies to Hubert H. Humphrey in the 21st century just as many people may not know that it was Humphrey who pioneered most of the progressive legislation signed into law under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, beginning with the Civil Rights legislation. For example, it was Humphrey who first proposed The Peace Corps program in 1958 and introduced the legislation in June of 1960; he proposed the Medicare program in 1949 and the Food for Peace Program in 1957; he proposed the Arms Control and Disarmament Act in 1959 and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1960. Humphrey was successful in skillfully organizing broad-based coalitions of public, legislative and presidential support to pass all of these landmark pieces of legislation, plus many others, such as the Head Start Program, The National Defense Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. Additionally, Humphrey continued his active role in international affairs throughout his Senate career. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Humphrey was appointed to serve as the Senate’s special representative to the United Nations and was an active supporter of U.S. Foreign Assistance legislation from its inception in the 1950s. He also represented the Senate at many international conferences, such as the U.N. 1974 World Food Conference in Rome.

Why mention Humphrey’s legislative achievements? Because the courage, determination, hard work, leadership, creativity, passion, vision and selflessness it took for Humphrey to ultimately succeed in obtaining his legislative and personal goals for a more just and better world for all people is what the Humphrey Fellowship Program embodies. Just as Humphrey’s life was dedicated to advancing basic human and civil rights, equality, social justice, international cooperation, understanding and peace, so too is the Humphrey Fellowship Program dedicated to achieving these same goals through the professional development of future global leaders.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows are mid-career professionals from more than 150 countries around the world who are selected competitively based on their demonstrated leadership, commitment and passion for public service, in both the public and private sectors. The fellows are individuals who believe, just like Humphrey did, that they can make a difference in improving other people’s lives and making a contribution to a better world. The Humphrey Fellows are doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, human rights advocates, journalists, communications specialists, agronomists, public servants, linguists, law enforcement specialists and more.

Today, there are more than 5,000 alumni of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program is administered by the Institute for International Education. Humphrey Fellows have an idealism and enthusiasm for life and their work not unlike Hubert Humphrey’s optimistic and indomitable spirit. The Happy Warrior’s passion for solving the world’s problems – to feed the hungry, provide medicine to the sick, education to the illiterate, jobs and training for the unemployed and promote international understanding, cooperation and peace, not war – are embodied in each and every class of Humphrey Fellows. Humphrey’s compassion and caring for the weak and needy, for the young and old, and for the physically challenged can be found in today’s Humphrey Fellows. HHH’s deep belief in equality and justice and his ability to live and fight for what he believed in without malice, envy, bitterness or self-pity are also characteristics that can be found in the lives and achievements of the Humphrey Fellows. They represent a new generation of global leaders, who like Humphrey, will keep fighting for what they believe in, not for themselves but for all people, everywhere.

On behalf of the Humphrey Family, I want to thank President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Council staff member, the late Robert Pastor, for their vision in creating the single most important tribute and living legacy to Hubert H. Humphrey by establishing the HHH Fellowship Program. Congratulations to President Carter for his active participation every year in the Humphrey Fellowship Program’s Human Rights Workshop in Atlanta. Let us remember President Carter’s words at Humphrey’s Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol in January 1978 when he said:

“At critical times in our history, the United States has been blessed by great people, who just by being themselves, give us a vision of what we are at our best and of what we might become. Hubert H. Humphrey was such a man…Yesterday, as messages poured into me as president, and to members of the Humphrey family from throughout the world, I realized vividly that Hubert Humphrey was the most beloved of all Americans and that his family encompassed not just people of the United States but all people everywhere.”

On this 35th anniversary of the Humphrey Fellowship Program, I salute all of the Humphrey Fellows, the Class of 2013-2014 and Alumni around the world, who represent the ideals and legacy of Hubert Humphrey. You inspire each of us and would also make my late Uncle Hubert proud of your active work to expand international understanding, education, cooperation and development to achieve our shared goal of a more just, equitable and peaceful world.


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