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Making Minnesota Liberal

Civil Rights and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

2002
Author:

Jennifer A. Delton

Making Minnesota Liberal

The surprising story of how Minnesota politicians helped redirect the course of American politics

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.

Sprightly and perceptive, Making Minnesota Liberal offers unexpected insight into the history of liberalism in the wake of the Second World War. Jennifer Delton's timely analysis untangles the politics of class and of race, to explain the triumph of Hubert Humphrey's anti-communist, civil rights policies in the national Democratic party. We long ago recognized 1948 as a pivotal year in American politics. Delton shows us how and why, rightly bringing back into sight the radicals of the era of the Great Depression.

Nell Irvin Painter, author of Standing at Armageddon: the United States, 1877-1919 and Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

How did a largely white state like Minnesota become a springboard for leadership in civil rights? Why did it produce a generation of liberals—Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Donald Fraser, Orville Freeman, and Eugene McCarthy—whose ideals transformed the Democratic party?

In Making Minnesota Liberal, Jennifer A. Delton delves into the roots of Minnesota politics for the answer, tracing 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.

Making Minnesota Liberal combines political history with a discussion of the symbolic role played by race in political battles between whites. Delton recounts the creation of Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor party, its merger with the Democrats, and the acrimonious battle for control of the DFL just after World War II. She argues that the Humphrey liberals won this battle in part because antiracism activities enabled previously antagonistic groups, divided by ethnicity, religion, and class, to unify around a common cause.

Delton contends that although liberal Minnesotans’s concern for racial justice was genuine, it also provided them with national political relevance and imbued their bid for power with a sense of morality. Ultimately the language of tolerance and diversity that emerged from antiracism prepared Minnesotans for Humphrey’s vision of a pluralistic and state-centered liberalism, which eventually became the model for Democratic politics nationwide. Making Minnesota Liberal is an absorbing and trenchant account of a key moment in American history, one that continues to resonate in our time.

Making Minnesota Liberal

Jennifer A. Delton is assistant professor of history at Skidmore College.

Making Minnesota Liberal

This is not just a Minnesota story. It is an important national story, a story of the organizational and political restructuring that took the United States from the New Deal to—and through—the Cold War and into the Vietnam War and the Great Society. The analysis of Humphrey’s complex political agenda is a big job and Delton is up to the task. She provides both breadth and depth. Her references, footnotes, and bibliography suggest the persistence and imagination she brought to her project.

Journal of American History

In this important book, Jennifer A. Delton shows that Minnesota politics underwent a fundamental change during the 1940s, and argues that its direction illuminates the building of a ‘new Democratic political order.’ Delton does an excellent job of showing how Humphrey got involved with questions of racial justice as mayor. A tremendously impressive feat of scholarship, it is also short, breezily written, and full of pleasing anecdotes and pen portraits. Delton tells a thoroughly good story.

American Historical Review

In this impressive work, Jennifer Delton has provided genuine insight on both the development of civil rights and the evolution of politics in Minnesota—and the nation. I highly recommend it to readers who are interested in the past and future of Minnesota’s progressive tradition.

Minnesota History

Sprightly and perceptive, Making Minnesota Liberal offers unexpected insight into the history of liberalism in the wake of the Second World War. Jennifer Delton's timely analysis untangles the politics of class and of race, to explain the triumph of Hubert Humphrey's anti-communist, civil rights policies in the national Democratic party. We long ago recognized 1948 as a pivotal year in American politics. Delton shows us how and why, rightly bringing back into sight the radicals of the era of the Great Depression.

Nell Irvin Painter, author of Standing at Armageddon: the United States, 1877-1919 and Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

Making Minnesota Liberal

Contents

Acknowledgments

Preface

Introduction: Postwar Liberalism and Antiracism in Minnesota

ONE The Rise and Fall ofthe Farmer-Labor Party
TWO The New Two-Party Liberalism
THREE Antiracism and the Politics of Unity
FOUR The Black Communities in Minnesota
FIVE An Independent Black Interest Group
SIX Civil Rights in Local Politics
SEVEN Civil Rights in Party Politics
EIGHT The 1948 Election and the Triumph of the Democratic Political Order

Epilogue: Civil Rights and the Fate of Postwar Liberalism

Notes
Bibliography

Index