SAINT PAUL, Minn. - More than 1,000 people showed up Saturday for the unveiling of a bronze statue of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The most prominent political figure on hand was former President Bill Clinton.
"I was a 26-year-old young man first time I met Hubert Humphrey," said Clinton. "And I told him I was from Arkansas and I thanked him for that 1948 speech and I thanked him for helping to engineer the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Although most younger Americans remember Humphrey as Lyndon Johnson's Vice President and the 1968 Democratic Presidential nominee, Humphrey exploded onto the national political scene while he was Mayor of Minneapolis. He spoke to the 1948 convention and scolded some in his own party over the issue of Civil Rights.
"The time has arrived 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," Humphrey said, in part.
The memory of Humphrey's political courage drew praise from prominent Democrats at the statue unveiling on the State Capitol grounds.
"You think of back in 1948, a young mayor, his whole political career in front of him, what a gutsy move," Senator Amy Klobuchar told the crowd.
"That is as true today as it was in 1948," agreed Senator Al Franken, "and you know if Hubert Humphrey were with us today, he would be leading the fight against the two constitutional amendments that are on this year's ballot."
Professor and long time civil rights activist Dr. Josie Johnson spoke of her own admiration for Humphrey. "That was 1948. We are now in 2012 and we, again, need courage and courageous leaders like Vice President Humphrey."
Former Republican Governor Arne Carlson was one of several GOP figures on hand. "Today," Carlson said, "amidst a dysfunctional political system, a system where compromise is under attack and disagreement is all too often treated as disloyalty...he saw America as it could be and he brought out the best in all of us."
Former Vice President Walter Mondale call Humphrey, "the single most influential and successful political leader in Minnesota history."
Clinton took one political shot at Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, without naming her, when he commented, "I think he (Humphrey) would have been proud of (Senator) John McCain for sticking up for the Secretary of State's aide...when she was attacked for being a Muslim."
The Secretary of State, of course, is Hillary Clinton, the former President's wife.
There was considerable humor in the hour and 15 minute program, some unexpected. When the wind blew down a standing United States Flag, it hit the base of the podium where the former President was speaking. Clinton asked "What's that?" When he saw the flag at his feet, he lifted it up and told the audience. "I knew a state senator once who had an American flag all on him and he said, 'You know I fought for that flag in World War II. I don't think I should get killed by it'."
The most personal tribute came from former Minnesota Attorney General Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III. "He cared deeply about Minnesota, our nation and the world. Both Mom (Murial) and Dad made sure that even as they forged careers of outstanding public service, they also brought up the Humphrey brood with love and deep caring. Dad was a person who was passionately optimistic about the beautiful state of Minnesota and our country. He was always looking forward, reaching for greater opportunity for all. He loved the word 'avanti', forward."
The life-sized bronze statue shows Humphrey extending his hand in greeting and leaning forward. It is flanked by granite walls bearing inscriptions of Humphrey's words.
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