Humphrey biographer lectures on book, civil rights and journalism

On Wednesday evening, Samuel G. Freedman, an award-winning author and Columbia University journalism professor, delivered a lecture at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus about his upcoming biography of civil rights activist and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Freedman said his fascination with the post-World War II era inspired him to write the book, his ninth, noting that Humphrey’s civil rights actions before his vice presidency often went unnoticed. 

“Even in honoring him, he’s been cut down in size,” said Freedman, noting a statue of Humphrey in Minneapolis is smaller than the actual man.

In addition to serving as vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson and running for president in 1968, Humphrey fought against antisemitism and segregation as the mayor of Minneapolis.

Freedman spoke of Humphrey’s background and childhood. It was during that time, he said, that Humphrey developed his compassion for those of other races and religions.  

“It’s as vanilla as vanilla can get,” Freedman said about Humphrey’s hometown in South Dakota. 

Freedman said he suspected Humphrey’s empathy came from spending time with the African Americans working on railroads in the town he grew up in. Some years later, after attending a congressional session in Washington, D.C., Humphrey was inspired to begin his political career. 

He had the “willingness to be reckless enough to fight these battles,” said Freedman.

He said he wanted to avoid the “white savior narrative” sometimes seen in biographies, but adding the context of the activists who aided and inspired Humphrey, such as Cecil Newman, A. Philip Randolph and Samuel Scheiner. 

The biography culminates with the 1948 Democratic Convention, where Humphrey pushed for the Democratic Party’s first civil rights platform. 

FIU Vice Provost Steven Moll introduced Freedman. Moll spoke of Freedman’s journalistic achievements, including his contributions to the New Yorker, Washington Post, Rolling Stone and other publications. 

Most of the attendees were FIU journalism students. Braudy De Jesus, a broadcasting major from the Dominican Republic, attended the lecture to learn more about American history in hopes of bettering his career in journalism. 

Freedman concluded his speech by emphasizing the importance of journalism today, saying he believed that current journalistic work is an important weapon against fake news controversies and a positive force in society.   

“It’s been an incredible time to teach journalism,” Freedman said. “One of the duties when writing history or journalism is to lift people up.”