The Democratic National Convention in Denver has begun. Let me slip into historian mode to share sounds from conventions past.
First is from the 1964 convention in Atlantic City, where incumbent President Lyndon Johnson got the nomination.
On August 22, 1964 – two days before the convention proper – the Democratic credentials committee was embroiled in a drama over Mississippi.
The official Mississippi delegation was “lily- white” (as people used to say). That state’s Democratic Party excluded Negroes. But a “rump delegation” also showed up in Atlantic City... the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It was mostly black.
Which delegation would be seated at the Democratic National Convention?
In the end, the “Freedom Democrats” rejected a compromise pushed by the party leadership: that two black “at large” delegates be seated with the all-white delegation.
It was a moot point as President Johnson was nominated by acclamation. There was no roll call of the states. But the Mississippi showdown caused the Democratic National Committee to change its rules for 1968, and to outlaw segregated delegations.
And into the pages of history stepped voting-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, vice chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Click here to hear Mrs. Hamer’s 8-minute statement to the DNC credentials committe in 1964. (You can download this MP3 by following this link to AmericanRhetoric.com.)