- The Mississippi Delegation Debate at the 1964 Democratic National ConventionAn Interview with Former Vice President Walter Mondale
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I first met Former Vice President Walter Mondale on October 14, 2010, at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He delivered a talk titled “A Life in Politics” in which he shared his personal experiences in local and national politics. When I spoke to him afterwards and asked if he would be willing to meet with me and share his perspective on the Mississippi delegation debate at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, he graciously agreed. My interests centered on his experiences as a member of the credentials committee and the chairman of the subcommittee charged with finding a compromise to the delegation debate in Mississippi. I truly appreciate Mr. Mondale’s willingness to talk with me and his valuable insight into this pivotal moment in American history. What you will read here is our conversation. [End Page 106]
January 6, 2011 Minneapolis, Minnesota
Walter Mondale: We came out with a report that changed the rules of the convention that I called the Civil Rights Act of the Democratic Party … [It] said from there on out that no delegation would be seated at the convention which had not been elected in a nondiscriminatory fashion. Now, that revolutionized the Democratic Party, and it led to the solid Republican South. Because when we got tough at home, then Jesse Helms and others walked and became Republicans because race was more important than the political party. [A]nd very quickly the southern Democratic Party did integrate. By the next convention, many of the Freedom Democratic people were on the inside—as delegates and on committees— including Fannie Lou Hamer. And the other thing is we were having a national election, which was Johnson/Humphrey vs. Goldwater. I like Goldwater, but he had been an opponent of civil rights; that was one of the things the old Lincoln Republican Party was changing. How we handled this [delegation challenge] helped elect the Johnson/Humphrey ticket, but during those next few years all the fundamental civil rights reforms, all the basic changes—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, all the things that changed America and eliminated official discrimination—happened because of that administration and the judges they appointed. So even though there are other things we’re going to talk about I don’t want that left out of consideration.
Morgan Ginther: I sometimes find it challenging because I think the ’60s were such a unique time period that you almost had to live through it to really get it and so to come at it from a time afterwards and try to look back is hard. I think my parents actually find it amusing, but I’m constantly asking them: Okay, so what about this? Or do you remember anything about that group of people or event? And try to constantly get myself acclimated to that time period. It’s been interesting.
Well, it is hard. I call it the high tide. There’s never been a time quite like it.
What I’m interested in is the 1964 Democratic Convention and what you might remember about being on the credentials committee. I’ve read some about delegates from different states who were on the credentials committee, but I’ve never actually read anything that describes how people were selected (such as yourself) to be on the committee.
Each state’s delegation...