Hubert Humphrey’s Speech to the 1948 Democratic National Convention

by David Reisenfeld

Unit Introduction

As the United States moved into the post-WWII world, it faced struggles over diversity and race relations. Soldiers returning from Europe recognized the disparities between races in the United States and, by the late 1940s, real calls for an effective and meaningful civil rights movement were being made. In his speech to the Democratic National Convention of 1948, Hubert Humphrey made an impassioned plea for the start of a direct, united approach that would extend civil rights to all Americans.

Unit Objectives

Students will engage in a close analytic reading of Hubert Humphrey’s speech to the 1948 Democratic National Convention in order to uncover the rationale behind an early attempt to kick-start a civil rights movement in the post–World War II United States.

Through a close reading of Humphrey’s speech, students will:

  • Read and re-read the text of Humphrey’s speech;
  • Work closely with Academic Vocabulary to build understanding of its place in complex informational text;
  • Paraphrase key parts of the text;
  • Answer a series of text-based questions to build a body of relevant text-based evidence; and
  • Engage in an on-demand, evidence-based writing experience based on a culminating question.



  • Hubert Humphrey, Speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, July 1948. Source: “A Plea for Civil Rights” in The American Reader, ed. by Diane Ravitch (1990). (The Minnesota Historical Society has posted audio of the speech on its website as well as Humphrey’s annotated draft.


Lesson 1


Students will “read like detectives” to begin their engagement with a short, but powerful speech given at the 1948 Democratic Convention by Hubert Humphrey. Through this close analytic reading, students will be pushed to dig deeply into the structure of the text and its embedded academic vocabulary. They will uncover the central ideas of the text while extracting new content-based knowledge about the emerging call for civil rights in post-war America.



Tell students that they will be reading and discussing a speech that could have sparked the early civil rights movement in America. Resist the temptation to talk extensively about Hubert Humphrey, the importance of civil rights in America, or the particulars of what Harry Truman believed about the issue. Build some momentum, but try not to guide the kids too closely.


Each step of this procedure (except read aloud/alone) will be documented on either the Summary Organizer or the Evidence Gathering Worksheets.

  1. Read Aloud: Students will participate in a “shared read.” As the teacher reads out loud the entire text of the Humphrey speech, students will follow along and familiarize themselves with different aspects of the text.
  2. Read Alone: On their own, students will read Text Selection #1 from the speech. They can annotate the text by underlining words they find essential to the text and circling words they do not know the meaning of.
  3. Summary Organizer Worksheet
    • Pass out Summary Organizer 1. Students will complete the Summary Organizer for Text Selection #1. The teacher projects a larger version of the handout for students to see.
    • The teacher now leads students through each part of the Summary Organizer in preparation for student work.
    • Students will work through the Key Words section. Two rules guide this activity: Students may not choose words they do not know the meaning of. They can use context clues, word analysis, and dictionary skills to discover word meanings.
    • When they have completed the organizer, students will volunteer the words they selected while the teacher lists all the students’ words on the overhead projector or board. Through a vote or general discussion, students will narrow the word list down to nine or ten Key Words.
    • The teacher then directs the students to the second part of the summary organizer. Students will work in pairs and compose a summary sentence using the key words they previously gathered on Summary Organizer 1. The teacher should remind the students that they are to primarily use the Key Words, but articles such as “a, an, the” and “connector words,” such as “and” and “but,” are acceptable to add.
    • Following the development of the summary sentence, the teacher will ask these same pairs of students to complete the final part of the Summary Organizer. In their own words, students should now summarize the text selection in a few sentences.
  4. Text-Dependent Questions for End-of-Class On-Demand Writing
    • Students will write answers to the questions below based on the content of the text itself. This will solidify the students’ understanding of the text and enable them to extract answers for the final question from different parts of the full text.
    • The teacher should read the questions aloud and direct students to independently answer the questions. Answers will be recorded on the “Evidence Gathering” Worksheet. The teacher should remind students that all answers must be based on specific identifiable parts of the text.


  1. Humphrey outlines a task laid out before the American people. What is this challenge?
  2. Using history to remind Americans of their heritage. There is a question of equality throughout this text selection. (Jefferson quote) How does Humphrey use history to show the need for a new emphasis on civil rights?

Lesson 2


Through continued close reading and the answering of focused, text-dependent questions, students will identify how Humphrey builds his short argument from the identification of issues surrounding civil rights. Students should be challenged to dig further into the text to uncover the significant issues that Humphrey’s speech addresses, particularly in connection with his plea to the humanity of Americans to support a new civil rights movement. Students will gather evidence to demonstrate how the text illuminates this call for moral responsibility and inherent equality, through pointed language, accusations, and demands for action.



Share the day’s procedure with the students and remind them that they will continue to be engaged in Humphrey’s text in order to build their understanding of how civil rights fit into the political landscape of post-WWII America.


  1. Read Alone
  2. Read Aloud: With the teacher reading aloud, students will follow along with Text Selection #2,
    “We are here as Democrats . . . we are 172 years late.”
  3. Think, Pair: Students will engage in a “Think on Your Own, Pair Up to Collaborate Activity” focused on Humphrey’s claim that the Democratic Party must establish a morally sound position when considering the future of race relations in the United States.
    • Think on Your Own: The teacher begins by asking students to paraphrase the following quote individually. Students will complete this on their Evidence-Gathering Worksheet.

      “Yes, this is far more than a party matter. Every citizen has a stake in the emergence of the United States as the leader of the free world. That world is being challenged by the world of slavery. For us to play our part effectively, we must be in a morally sound position.”
    • Pair Up to Collaborate: Students will then pair up, share their paraphrasing with each other, and work to find a blend of ideas. Tell the students to be sure to include ideas from both partners and evidence from the text to shape the new answer.
  4. Text-Dependent Questions:
    • Students will write answers to the questions below based on the content of the text itself. This will solidify the students’ understanding of the text and enable them to extract answers for the final question from different parts of the full text.
    • Remind students that the objective of the “Evidence-Gathering Worksheet” is to independently answer the questions using information and academic language from the text itself.
    • Students will record their answer in the appropriate place on the “Evidence-Gathering Worksheet.” The teacher should remind students that all answers must be based on specific, identifiable parts of the text.


  1. What does Humphrey address as the “double standard” in American society? Considering this, what does he say Americans are 172 years late for?
  2. Humphrey states that people may be “hedging” and “watering down” the issues under discussion. Within this accusation, what demand is being made of the American people?
  3. How does Humphrey appeal to the hearts and minds of Americans in this speech? What language does he use to solidify his argument for a new civil rights movement?

Lesson 3


At this point, students will have read through different parts of Humphrey’s text several times, in different ways. They will have been encouraged to consider the importance of different academic vocabulary words, closely read the text to uncover Humphrey’s argument for a new civil rights movement, and gathered specific textual evidence to answer a culminating question. Students will use the learned content and academic language from this complex non-fiction text to answer a culminating question about Hubert Humphrey’s appeal for a new, more comprehensive movement for civil rights in America.


Humphrey concludes his speech with an impassioned plea to Democrats and all Americans to realize their responsibility to develop and sustain a new civil rights movement in America. This final portion of the lesson will push students to use a newly developed body of evidence to display their understanding of Humphrey’s argument that civil rights is a necessity for all.



  1. Read Alone: Students will read Text Selection #3 alone.
  2. Read Aloud: With the teacher reading aloud, students will follow along silently with Text Selection #3, the final portion of the speech.
  3. Text-Dependent Questions: In pairs, the students will collaborate to answer the following text-dependent questions. It is imperative that students develop ways to discuss the central idea of the question and work together to find the appropriate text-based evidence to create an answer. The teacher should remind students that all answers must be based on specific parts of the text.
    1. Humphrey outlines a “historic opportunity.” What is this opportunity and how does he see this happening?
    2. Americans are prompted to treat people equally and act wisely. Why would Humphrey close his speech with this request? What does he hope for the American people as they move forward from 1948?
    3. What does Humphrey see as the “plain path” of Americans, and what impact would it have on the future of race relations in the post-WWII United States?
  4. Evidence Review:
    Before the final writing assignment, the teacher will lead the students back through their Summary Organizers and Evidence Gathering Worksheets to establish what evidence they have identified through the close reading process. This process opens new access points for students who move at different paces through classroom processes. This kind of differentiation will provide a sound platform for some students to “catch-up” and for others to refine their thinking about how to present their final answer to the culminating question. Use the “Culminating Question” Handout when working through this final piece with students.
  5. Culminating Question: In his speech to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey makes a strong case for the establishment of a real, working movement to extend civil rights to all. He describes what he sees as “the plain path” for the American people to follow in this search for equality and to build America as the leader of the free world following the calamity of global conflict.
    Using the evidence gathered throughout the class period (on the “Evidence Gathering Worksheet), respond to the following prompt in no more than two paragraphs:

"In his plea to Democrats and to all Americans, Humphrey refers to civil rights in America as the “bright sunshine of human rights” in the post-war world. What is the rationale behind this call for a new civil rights movement in the United States?"

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to get free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments