August 24: George Sinner at the 1964 DNC
North Dakota rarely stands out on the national political scene, but one figure did at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, which began on this date in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Future Governor George Sinner was a state senator and a delegate. He was also an unsuccessful candidate for Congress that year.
1964 also was the last time North Dakota voted for a Democrat for president, that being Lyndon Johnson. In his book “Turning Points: A Memoir,” Sinner recounted his efforts to soothe unrest at the convention involving the racially-integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which advocated for civil rights and challenged the all-white Mississippi Democratic Party delegation.
North Dakota’s delegation was seated in front of the Mississippi delegation. A conflict arose over the credentials and seating of the Mississippi delegates. At one point, Freedom Party delegates moved into the Mississippi seats, and security personnel tried to remove them.
Sinner called a top White House aide and advised him of the situation, fearing someone could get hurt. The aide called for the Freedom Party delegates not to be ejected, a request Sinner passed along to the security team.
The next day Sinner was invited to a Freedom Party meeting, where he spoke to the delegation.
That night, Freedom Party Democrats stood in the aisle for hours in the venue’s extreme heat. Sinner asked his fellow North Dakotans if they might share their seats, and they said, “Good heavens, let’s do it!” Sinner invited the Freedom Party delegates over, and recounted that “Of course they were grateful.”
NBC News interviewed Sinner two nights in a row about his actions. When the reporter asked Sinner a loaded question about sharing the seats, Sinner said: “I spent a lot of months in the South in the Air Force. I think most of the people in the South are the most hospitable people I’ve ever known. In this particular situation, this atmosphere, they would have shown the same kindness to these people that we did. Regardless of your disposition on the mechanics and the particular facts on this issue, kindness didn’t seem to be out of order in any circumstances.”
Sinner served as governor from 1985 to 1992 during drought and farm crises. He died in 2018.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura, referencing “Turning Points: A Memoir” by George Sinner and Bob Jansen.
Sinner, G.A. & Jansen, B. (2011). Turning points: A memoir. The Dakota Institute Press of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation: Washburn, ND (Pages 1-4, 332)
The Montreal Star. 1964, August 26. Pages 1, 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1964, August 26. Page 2
El Paso Times. 1964, August 27. Page 2-B