Jim Hunt, Democrats and race

Published February 29, 2024

By Gary Pearce


When Jim Hunt was president of North Carolina Young Democrats in 1968, he said something at a YDC meeting that was deemed newsworthy – and wasn’t popular with all Democrats:

“I’m getting tired of going to county, local and even State YDC meetings and looking out at the audience to see far too few black and brown faces. If the YDC and the party are going to remain successful they are going to have to stay open, and we must see that the party remains open to anyone across any spectrum – ethnic, economic, or any other.”

That’s from The News & Observer August 18, 1968, 56 years ago.

The Democratic Party – in North Carolina, the South and nationally – was splitting apart then over race. Conservative Democrats were turning Republican as the one-time party of Lincoln turned against civil rights and voting rights for Black Americans.

The Democratic nominee for President was Vice President Hubert Humphrey (pictured with Hunt in 1968), a controversial figure since the 1948 Democratic National Convention, when – as the 37-year-old mayor of Minneapolis—he implored Democrats to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

Hunt himself took a walk in 1968 that a lot of conservative Democrats didn’t like.

The night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Hunt took part in a biracial candlelight procession in his hometown of Wilson.

When I worked for Hunt in his 1976 campaign for governor, racists turned that into a rumor that “Hunt marched with Martin Luther King.”

Hunt won anyway. In his 16 years as governor, he made sure there were more black and brown faces in the Democratic Party – and in state government and in the courts, including in the judiciary, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The Democratic racists of 1968 have become the Trump-MAGA Republicans of today.

Democrats today – like Jim Hunt’s daughter Rachel, candidate for lieutenant governor – walk forthrightly in the bright sunshine of human rights.