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Dedication speakers praise Humphrey’s legacy, criticize today’s partisan politics

A group of dignitaries chatted around the 7-foot-tall statue

MinnPost photo by James Nord

A group of dignitaries chatted around the 7-foot-tall statue shortly after it was unveiled on Saturday.

Prominent federal and state officials took turns Saturday praising the legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey, in the process criticizing today’s partisan political climate.

The occasion was the dedication ceremony for a state Capitol Mall memorial honoring Minnesota’s beloved “Happy Warrior.”  

Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Walter Mondale joined a large crowd to unveil a statue of Humphrey that depicts him in the middle of one of his passionate speeches.

Humphrey’s three-plus decades of public service took him from mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 to the vice presidency under Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and almost to the White House in 1968, when he narrowly lost the presidency to Richard Nixon. He began and ended his national political career in the U.S. Senate and, in the last year of his life, became its deputy president pro tempore — a position created to honor him.

The memorial, in the works for nearly 20 years, comes more than 30 years after Humphrey’s death in 1978.

Saturday’s ceremonies served as a tribute to Humphrey’s accomplishments but also gave those who knew him and his work well an opportunity to contrast his views and political philosophy to the politics gripping America now.

“All my life, I loved and admired Hubert Humphrey,” Clinton said. “He believed that public service was a noble endeavor. He believed that his adversaries need not be his enemies. He believed that with a happy heart and an open ear and an honest dialogue a lot of conflicts could be resolved.”

That attitude earned Humphrey a lot of friends across the aisle, Clinton said, and made him one of the most beloved political figures in Minnesota.

Mondale salutes his friend

Mondale, who served with Humphrey in the Senate, quoted Shakespeare’s “Henry V” in describing his longtime friend.

“A good leg will fall; a straight back will stoop; a black beard will turn white … a fair face will wither; a full eye will wax hollow but a good heart is … the sun and the moon, or rather the sun and not the moon, for it shines bright and … keeps its course truly,” he said.

“That was our Hubert.”

Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson said that Humphrey searched for common ground while staying true to his core values – in contrast to the current political climate, where “compromise is under attack and disagreement is all too often treated as disloyalty.”

Carlson’s view was echoed by many.

Bill Clinton HHH statue ceremony
MinnPost photo by James NordFormer President Bill Clinton spoke of Humphrey as a childhood influence during Saturday's dedication ceremony.

The speakers recognized Humphrey for his leadership in campaigning against racial discrimination in his “sunshine speech” in 1948, years before most politicians would take on the issue.

"The time has arrived for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights," then-Minneapolis Mayor Humphrey told delegates to the 1948 Democratic National Convention.

That iconic quotation is inscribed on a memorial wall next to the 7-foot bronze statue.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken said that Humphrey’s legacy means he would oppose the two proposed constitutional amendments — the marriage and Photo ID ballot questions — set to appear on the November ballot.

He also argued that Humphrey would fight to fund education, health care and other safety-net provisions.

 “Hubert Humphrey famously used a lot of words,” Franken said. “The words that he spoke were so eloquent and so memorable, and I would emphasize they are as meaningful and eloquent and urgent today as they were when he said them.”

Optimism, passion, spirit

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the nation would be served by a little more Humphrey optimism, and many of the speakers praised Humphrey for his passion and enormous spirit.

“I want that kind of America again where we can do things together,” Clinton said. “If it comes again … it will not come from people who look like they spent all morning sucking lemons. It will not come from people who say the sky is falling. It will come from happy warriors.”

Recognizing what Humphrey stood for is more important than recognizing him as a great man, his son, Skip Humphrey, said after the ceremony.

HHH Capitol Memorial
MinnPost photo by James NordThe memorial also includes notable scenes from Humphrey's life.

“Today it was literally a verbal and visual returning of the spirit. What was said was absolutely right and it characterized him in the best possible way,” said Humphrey, a former Minnesota attorney general.

“It takes time, but when you realize how long it will be here and what it will mean for generations to come … it’s not so much about the man but about what he represented of the good people of Minnesota and the public spirit that Minnesota has.”

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Comments (4)

We need to do more of this

I'm a strong Democrat, but regardless of which party our leaders are in, there should be more done to honor those who have been leaders for a long time. I think Pawlenty drove this state into the ditch, but he was a two-term governor and legislator before that. There should a school, or a lake or a government building name for him. And if he is elected vice president, it should be even more. Dave Durenberger and Martin Sabo, too. And even Jesse Ventura, who served just four years. Mondale should DEFINITELY have something and something more because he served as vice president.

The press gets so cynical about elected officials, essentially relegating them to the level of used car salesmen and carnival barkers. But elected officials really do give a lot of themselves - more than any corporate raider I've ever heard of.

Where is it?

I read the article twice, but couldn't find the location of this statue.


The statue is located at the Capitol Mall across from the State Office Building.

It still is not enough

I agree we need more statues of Hubert Humphrey. Naming the Metrodome and an airport after him is not enough. A paltry $400,000 of taxpayers money is not enough, either. That amount would hardly feed any hungry children or provide scholarships. As far as monuments for Pawlenty and Ventura, no way. They are not liberal Democrats.