Sunday, June 05, 2005

 

Trying to keep the aisle clear

In August 1964, an alternate Democratic delegation from Mississippi, an integrated, but largely black delegation called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, NJ hoping to be seated at the convention. The MFDP charged, correctly, that the "regular" all-white delegation was illegitimate because the state party illegally kept blacks off the voting rolls. LBJ was worried that seating the MFDP instead of the "regulars" would alienate Southern states and drive them into the hands of his Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater.

On August 22, 1964, the first day of the convention, the MFDP and its leader Fannie Lou Hamer earned national attention and sympathy when network TV broadcast Hamer's testimony in front of the Credentials Committee. It was such compelling testimony that as Hamer was still speaking, LBJ contacted the TV networks and had them interrupt the broadcast so he could give a statement that would upstage her.

LBJ then dispatched VP-hopeful, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, to work out a compromise between the MFDP and the "regular" delegates. (Humphrey was not yet VP. The VP-spot had been vacant since LBJ took office in November '63.) Humphrey assigned the task of working out a compromise to his protégé, Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale. Mondale hammered out a shameful deal: Just two MFDP delegates would be seated—not representing Mississippi—but as "at-large" delegates; all the "regulars" would be seated at the convention if they simply pledged loyalty to the LBJ ticket; and the mediators proposed a resolution calling for Southern Democrats to integrate future delegations.

The MFDP rejected the deal. Hamer told reporters that the compromise was "token rights, on the back row, the same as we got in Mississippi. We didn't come all the way for that mess again." The "regular" Mississippi delegation rejected the deal too. (Only three "regulars" stayed at the convention. They were seated.)

Showing up at the convention on Tuesday night, Hamer and the MFDP tried to occupy the seats left vacant by the missing "regulars." Her group was hauled away by guards.
However, Hamer and the MFDP returned the next night, August 26, 1964. Here's an interview from the convention floor on that night:

TV Reporter: And Will you identify yourself for us please?

Fannie Lou Hamer: My name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. I’m the vice chairman of the Freedom Democrat Party.

Reporter: Where did you get the credentials to get into the building tonight Mrs. Hamer?

FLH: Some long friends of ours gave us an invitation to come in. We sit with them a while, and we wanted to sit in our own state.

Reporter: Do you have any kind of (unintelligible) uh, credentials that will get you into these seats?

FLH: No we don’t. Only as American citizens.

Reporter (turning to a bow-tied Democratic Party Official): Mr. Sgt. at arms, have you had any contingency plans for this?

Official: None at all. I just stand here peacefully trying to keep this aisle clear.

Unidentified Black woman interrupts: (unintelligible) say to us down in Mississippi. When they’re before the eyes of the world they’re peaceful and loving, and when they get back to Mississippi it’s nigger you can’t come in here, nigger you can’t come in there, nigger you get out. Here we are in the eyes of the world, seeing the same thing that happens down, way down, in the Deep South. Mississippi.
The country refuses to demand that Mississippi give Negroes their rights, their privileges. We didn’t ask to be elected to anything. We didn’t ask for any patronage. All we asked for is to let us sit.

Comments:
the mention of Humphrey reminded me of this:

"Have you heard the news?" he said, with a grin,
"The Vice-President's gone mad!"
"Where?" "Downtown." "When?" "Last night."
"Hmm, say, that's too bad!"
"Well, there's nothin' we can do about it," said the neighbor,
"It's just somethin' we're gonna have to forget."
 
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