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Making Minnesota Liberal: Civil Rights and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Jennifer A. Delton
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Making Minnesota Liberal
    Book Description:

    In Making Minnesota Liberal, Jennifer A. Delton delves into the roots of Minnesota politics and traces the change from the regional, third-party, class-oriented politics of the Farmer-Labor party to the national, two-party, pluralistic liberalism of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party (DFL). While others have examined how anticommunism and the Cold War shaped this transformation, Delton takes a new approach, showing the key roles played by antiracism and the civil rights movement. In telling this story, Delton contributes to our understanding not only of Minnesota’s political history but also of the relationship between antiracism and American politics in the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9353-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Postwar Liberalism and Antiracism in Minnesota
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    In his failed 1984 presidential bid against Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale won only his home state of Minnesota and the largely black District of Columbia. It seems appropriate that a Minnesota liberal should have shouldered this stunning repudiation of postwar liberalism. After all, so many Minnesota liberals, including Mondale himself, had helped define and enact the set of ideas and assumptions about “big government” that Reagan so gleefully tore down. And it seems fitting that at its end, it would be African American voters who were postwar liberalism’s last, loyal adherents, for they too had been a key part of...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Rise and Fall of the Farmer-Labor Party
    (pp. 1-18)

    To understand the novelty of Hubert Humphrey’s vision of two-party pluralist politics in Minnesota, we need first to establish what he was building onto and reacting against. Third-party movements had flourished in Minnesota in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to a combination of sectional politics, ethnic divisions, and the rural economy of the state. The New Deal and World War II disrupted these conditions and destroyed the political and economic context that had given rise to the Farmer-Labor party. When this happened, Humphrey and his liberal allies stood ready to instruct Minnesota voters in their own brand...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The New Two-Party Liberalism
    (pp. 19-39)

    In 1944 the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party’s gubernatorial candidate Barney Allen traveled around Minnesota rousing citizens to the polls with statements like these: “Third parties are essential and necessary whenever the two major parties, as they have at times, offer too little divergence in programs and advocacy . . . ,” and “The two-party system is preferable and a multiple party system is to be avoided.”¹ These statements were a far cry from the fiery speeches of Farmer-Labor Governor Floyd B. Olson, which excoriated the rich and denounced capitalism. Written by political science student and Humphrey adviser Arthur Naftalin, the speech exemplifies...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Antiracism and the Politics of Unity
    (pp. 40-60)

    In the years surrounding World War II a wave of tolerance and understanding swept over Minnesota’s civic consciousness. The Republican Governor Edward Thye created an interracial commission to educate Minnesotans about the perils of racism and religious prejudice. Civic and religious groups encouraged citizens to take a “Pledge of Unity,” to never judge a whole group on the delinquent actions of a few, and to treat all people according to their individual worth. Even farm journals decried racism.¹ Civic officials attributed the sudden urgency about race relations to a combination of Scandinavian moral acuity and farsighted efforts to prevent racial...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Black Communities in Minnesota
    (pp. 61-78)

    Hubert Humphrey’s programmatic politics and wartime antiracism presented an opportunity for black Minnesotans. After the war, a new generation of black leaders, with roots in the labor movement and New Deal arguments about federal responsibility and economic inclusiveness, attached their hopes to Humphrey. They were attracted not only to Humphrey’s interest in civil rights but also to his ideas about state-centered reform, economic growth, and national interest groups, which supported their own efforts to guide Minnesota’s tiny black communities from isolation to participation.

    The most important fact about Minnesota’s African American population was its small size. Between 1910 and 1940,...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE An Independent Black Interest Group
    (pp. 79-92)

    Humphrey and his liberal allies elaborated their ideas about “issuesbased” politics and interest groups as an alternative to the politics of both the Farmer-Labor party and the Democratic machine. Their ideas about political organization resonated in Minnesota’s black communities, but for different reasons. For black activists like editor Cecil Newman, they provided a language for black integration into American political and economic life and a way for African Americans in Minnesota to participate in an increasingly active national black movement for civil rights based on fair employment.

    World War II reinvigorated black activism. Memories of dashed promises and violence after...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Civil Rights in Local Politics
    (pp. 93-110)

    In 1945 Hubert Humphrey was elected mayor of Minneapolis, a city of 540,000. As mayor he formed a Council on Human Relations and set up a municipal FEPC, making Minneapolis one of a handful of places to enforce prohibitions on racial discrimination in employment.¹ Humphrey’s biographers rightly celebrate his mayoral civil rights initiatives as part of a lifelong interest in civil rights, part of what made him a decent human being and moral politician. Many people at the time, however, were puzzled as to its meaning. One concerned citizen inquired of the Human Relations Council, “Does all this activity in...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Civil Rights in Party Politics
    (pp. 111-128)

    When Hubert Humphrey testified before a U.S. Senate committee about the FEPC, the Democratic senator from Louisiana told him that the Negro population in the Twin Cities was so small that it did not constitute an economic problem, as it did in the South. Humphrey admitted this was so but added, “I don’t have to say these things to be elected mayor.” The old senator replied, “Maybe you’re thinking of greener fields.”¹ Humphrey denied this, claiming that all he wanted to be was mayor of Minneapolis. But the fact that he was in Washington, having this conversation with a southern...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The 1948 Election and the Triumph of the Democratic Political Order
    (pp. 129-159)

    Hubert Humphrey became Minnesota’s first Democratic senator in 1948 by reforging the old Farmer-Labor coalition of farmers, liberals, and workers in a new kind of Democratic party, which manifested political leverage in terms of organized votes, not control of party machinery or patronage. To reshape Minnesota’s Democratic party in this way, Humphrey had to eliminate both the left wing and the old Democrats from leadership in the DFL party. The civil rights issue helped him delegitimate their influence and realize his own vision of a liberal Democratic party based on economic issues and interest groups, not section, class, or ethnicity....

  14. EPILOGUE: Civil Rights and the Fate of Postwar Liberalism
    (pp. 160-170)

    In this book I focused on what the civil rights issue did for white liberals in the 1940s. By 1968, of course, civil rights was in fact undoing the work it had done so effectively back in 1948. It was creating dissension, not unity. It was undermining liberals’ influence in the Democratic party, not solidifying it. And it was exposing the fallacy of liberal assumptions, not affirming them. George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, ran stronger than anyone expected among the northern white working classes in the 1964 Democratic primary, and again in his thirdparty presidential bid in 1968....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 171-210)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-222)
  17. Index
    (pp. 223-226)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)
  19. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)