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January 17, 2016

The last Democratic Convention held in Philly was filled with controversy

Civil rights splintered the party in 1948 election

While the Republican race has garnered most of the media's attention, the fight for the Democratic nomination for president has been, at times, just as interesting.

Most notably, Senator Bernie Sanders has proved to be a worthy challenger for Hillary Clinton, who has long been considered the frontrunner. Now, Sanders is either tied or leading in some polls for the important early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

A vote has yet to be cast, so whether the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer produces a clear winner and unified party — or one candidate sneaking by with a splintered base — remains to be seen.

It's hard to imagine, however, that this year's event, held primarily at the Wells Fargo Center from July 25 to 28, will be as heated as the last time the event was hosted in Philly.

In 1948, President Harry Truman, who took office after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, accepted the party's nomination and went on to win the office in an election that produced one of the most iconic photographs in American political history.

But before Truman accepted the nomination in Philly, Hubert Humphrey, who at the time was mayor of Minneapolis and a candidate for Senate, made a speech urging the party to adopt a progressive civil rights platform.

Humphrey's speech, which can be heard in its entirety in the video below, called on the party to "get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights," according to Smithsonian.

That didn't sit well with the party's Southern politicians. A vote was taken to adopt the liberal platform, and it passed by a close margin. Some were so upset that they actually got up and left the Convention Hall in Philly. More from Smithsonian:

The entire Mississippi delegation and half the Alabama contingent walked out of the convention. The rest of the South would back Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia as a protest candidate against Truman for the presidential nomination.

A 2008 NPR report delved into the controversy. The platform, which came well before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, called for things like an anti-lynching law and the end of school segregation.

Truman wanted to make progress on the issue, but was trying to avoid upsetting Southern Democrats like Humphrey did at the convention. More from NPR:

Harry Truman actually had a fairly aggressive program for pursuing the issue of segregation in the country, but he knew that at the convention in the summer of 1948 there would not be a lot of support for that. And he wanted as peaceful a convention as possible. He wanted to try to hold the party together. So he opposed the minority plank through his surrogates at the convention.

Angering Southern Democrats put Truman in a tough spot for the general election, and third party candidate Strom Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, was able to steal several Southern states away from him.

But that wasn't enough to give Truman's Republican opponent, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, enough to overtake him. As NPR points out, he had a strong turnout from black voters in Cleveland and Chicago, which helped put him over the edge.

Sanders and Clinton supporters certainly have their differences, but it's probably unlikely any issue between them would make them angry enough to walk out of the South Philly arena this summer. That's usually reserved for our city's sports teams.