Walter Mondale’s Decades-Long Crusade for Fair Housing and the Full Promise of Civil Rights

On April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the youngest members of the United States Senate took the floor and declared, “The main proponent of non-violent confrontation is dead. His generosity towards the white man, his belief in the basic goodwill of all people and his dramatic, nonviolent behavior enabled him to speak to both races, ”said Walter Mondale, a 40-year-old Democrat who emerged as one of them the Chamber’s most ardent civil rights advocates.

“In the days to come, we must act to fulfill King’s dream.” said Mondalewho died on Monday at the age of 93.

Mondale called for immediate action by Congress that day the law on fair housing.

Last year, when prominent Democrats shied away from it, Mondale joined the only black Senate member, Massachusetts Republican Edward Brooke, in support of an amendment aimed at preventing discrimination in the rental and sale of private homes . Mondale and Brooke, both former northern state attorneys general who had been slow to grapple with housing separation, knew federal intervention was necessary to combat ongoing racial bias from homeowners, property developers and real estate agents. (Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison referred to Mondale as “the advocate of the original people. ”)

The young senators wanted to complete the work of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which lacked provisions to enforce a federal prohibition on housing discrimination. However, her initiative has faced major hurdles in the Senate and House of Representatives due to opposition from the Southern Segregation Democrats and Conservative Republicans, who were empowered after the 1966 elections.

In those elections, Conservative Republicans running in the northern states sparked a white vote against the progress made by civil rights activists. Northern Republicans and not a few Democrats had begun to repeat the rhetoric of Southern Democrats defenders of housing segregation. “If a person wants to discriminate against negroes or others in selling or renting their home, they have the right to do so.” explained former actor Ronald Reaganwho led to victory in California’s gubernatorial race in 1966. Fear of backlash had already made many supposedly liberal Democrats more cautious about adopting housing segregation. Mondale was one of the newest members of the Senate when President Lyndon Johnson asked him to support legislation in the Democratic-led Senate, but as a throwback to the struggle written years later watched“Housing was such a toxic issue that the president couldn’t find anyone to lead the fight.”

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