President Kaler's welcoming remarks to the University Law School's Summit on Civil Rights: "Justice Strengthens Us"

Friday, November 10, 2017

Good morning and welcome to the University of Minnesota.  Greetings to our many distinguished civil rights, labor, faith and community leaders from our state and across the nation.

A special welcome to Congressman Clyburn. Welcome, sir, to Minnesota. And a big thank you to our friends at the Kresge Foundation for their support.

This Summit for Civil Rights marks another point in our University’s path to equality, justice and fighting segregation. I’m grateful to our Law School, the Journal of Law and Inequality, and the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity for bringing you all together to take this next step in a process to draft a cohesive civil rights strategy and to build and strengthen this coalition that’s gathered here.

The civil rights struggle in the United States, of course, was a grass roots movement fueled by the courage, wisdom and righteous anger of African Americans. Among them was someone like Roy Wilkins, the head of the NAACP during the turbulent 1960s. We here at the University are proud to call Wilkins an alumnus, graduating in 1923.

But this morning, with Mr. Mondale here — and as we gather in Mondale Hall — let me share some other University and Minnesota history to put this Summit and the Vice President’s own experiences into context. It might just involve a little bit of bragging.             

In 1948, the city of Minneapolis had a firebrand of a 37-year-old mayor named Hubert Humphrey. He was a University of Minnesota alum.  Mayor Humphrey delivered at the Democratic National Convention a speech for the ages that said — and I wish I could give a good Humphrey “Happy Warrior” impression, but I can’t — he said: “My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late.

“To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

They were words that helped to change a nation’s consciousness.

Why was Mayor Humphrey so riled?

Because the city of Minneapolis was widely known for its anti-Semitism and its racism, its red-lining and jobs discrimination. 
Indeed, our own University had its struggles around segregated residence halls, a period in the 1930s and 40s that we’re not proud of, and that we’ve recently been revisiting.

Now, fast forward to 1964. A young man named Walter Mondale — yet another University alum — was Minnesota’s attorney general and Humphrey’s political lieutenant. Together, they worked to end segregation in the Democratic Party and, ultimately, in the nation. And, by 1968, now Senator Mondale was the sponsor of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a monumental achievement.

Not at the grass roots, but in the trenches of electoral politics, Humphrey and Mondale made an extraordinary difference.

Coincidentally, 1968 was the same year that Hubert Humphrey lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon and, soon after, returned to our campus to teach political science. Let me tell you a story about that.

Academia being what it is, the University’s Political Science department refused to allow Humphrey to teach courses because he didn’t have a Ph.D. He’d been a graduate student here, but didn’t finish his dissertation. So, he was relegated to what was then our interdisciplinary Social Sciences program. I guess being a Mayor, U.S. Senator and U.S. Vice President doesn’t make a person smart enough to teach political science!

My point is: when it comes to leadership in civil rights, when it comes taking on society’s grand challenges, the University of Minnesota is the perfect place for this Summit and I’m very happy we’re taking the lead once more.

Let me conclude with this. 
Mr. Mondale is a true gem of this University, our state and our nation. If you get a chance, take a short walk onto our East Bank campus and find our Scholars Walk, which honors some of our most influential alumni. 

There you’ll find a monument to him with a wonderful photo of a very handsome Korean War Army Corporal Fritz Mondale. It’s his quote on his Scholars Walk that rings true today in our nation and in this room where your work is about to unfold.

Mr Mondale once said: “Justice and accountability always make us better able to face our enemies. Justice strengthens us.”

I believe those are words to live by, and words that help to frame this Summit for Civil Rights and today’s conversation. Mr. Mondale, thank you for your inspiration, and, to all of you, on behalf of the entire University of Minnesota community, welcome.