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George Wallace

In: People

Submitted By banghcm
Words 3557
Pages 15
Chris Bangham
November 17th, 2008
Anthony Donaldson
Alabama History
The George Wallace Paradox George Wallace lost his first gubernatorial election for his lack of a strong stance against desegregation. He would not make that mistake in his next election. His sense of appealing to the majority and his beliefs in the status quo of segregation drove his beliefs until the status quo changed. Desegregation came and people accepted it and his sense of appealing to the majority caused his own view to change. His changes would present questions of his motives of the past and present and also would present two contradictory images of a George Wallace. George Wallace was the absolute image of segregation to a decrepit man who seemed unapologetic, apologetic, and in denial about his own past. In 1958, George Wallace was a Judge with a strong opposition to civil rights and against federal involvement with state matters regarding such. His popularity drove him to seek the governorship of Alabama. He ran against a man named John Patterson in the Democratic Primary. Patterson, with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, defeated him. Wallace blamed the loss on his lack of being a strong segregationist. 1 Four years later, in 1962 he ran again and swept the Democratic primary and won the election with the lack of support for Republicans in Alabama at the time. During his inaugural address, in January 1963 he made the famous speech that would follow him for the rest of his life; “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” So began Wallace’s first governorship and with it a new era of disregard for the rights of African-American’s and a blind eye towards violence towards them. During his first summer in office just as he promised during his campaign speeches he vowed to stop two black students from registering at the previously all white University of Alabama. He vowed to stand in the doorway and vowed to use nonviolence to stop the invasion of the Federal Government of John Kennedy from interfering in the state’s matters. Wallace said, “That this would raise constitutional questions that can then be adjudicated by the courts”. The courts ordered desegregation for the University of Alabama and as two black students tried to enroll. James Hood and Vivian Malone tried to enroll on June 11th 1963. If governor Wallace ignored the court order he would be found contempt of court and subject to jail or fines. With his Alabama State Troopers and Alabama National Guard on standby, Wallace approached the auditorium where registration was done. Thousands had gathered already waiting for his promised stand at the schoolhouse door. The Deputy Attorney General arrived and Wallace was signaled and began his stand at the podium in front of the auditorium. The Deputy Attorney General then asked for Wallace’s cooperation. The Alabama National Guard was then federalized and as a General asked him to step aside he finally did and returned to Montgomery and Vivian Malone and Jimmy Hood were admitted to the University of Alabama. Under Wallace’s watch segregationists all over the south tried to keep blacks from voting all over the state. In Selma, the battle was particularly fierce. The governor approved of the tactics they used to legally not register blacks to vote. Using intimidation and Jim Crow laws they prevented the registration of the majority of blacks in the county who also made up the majority of the population. Martin Luther King Jr. decided to use the end of the voter registration period for a march from Selma to Montgomery to petition Wallace into voting rights reform. Wallace was originally going let them march and close the highway to all except those who live on it. His plan was to punish them in a way and force them to walk it with no cars and no places to sleep. Apparently, he changed his mind and stated, “I’m not going to have a bunch of nigger’s walking along the highway as long as I’m governor”. Wallace ordered the troopers to use any means necessary to stop the march. To the public he said this:
Any preconceived march along public highways is both conductive to orderly flow of traffic and commerce within and through the state of Alabama. The additional hazard placed upon the highway travel by any such actions cannot be countenanced. It is clearly obvious to any sensible person that such organized group marching along our highways will only add to the existing hazards of traffic such as cures, embankments, bridges, and other normal conditions found along the public ways of this state. Such action would not be allowed on the part of any other group of citizens or non-citizens of the state of Alabama and will not be allowed in this instance. Government must proceed in an orderly manner and lawful and law abiding citizens must transact their business with the government in such a manner. There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery, and I have so instructed the Department of Public Safety.
This guise to the nation was used to justify the stopping of the march in the most politically correct way possible, this being one of the many instances of George Wallace’s paradox. The day of the march, about two hundred marchers sang “We Shall Overcome” and walked towards the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On the other side of the bridge, troopers awaited their arrival. When they arrived tension was high and the marchers were told to disperse and suddenly the tear gas and clubs came out. Not one of the marchers was left standing, and the world saw the images of what happened on Bloody Sunday. At this point, the majority of the country was behind the marchers and hoping they would finish their march. Dr. King expressed his outrage and vowed that the march would happen. Publicly Wallace defended the troopers, privately he was furious. King then requested an injunction to allow the march. A restraining order was issued until the issue could be investigated further but a second march took place two days later where the marchers went to the bridge and said a prayer and turned back. At this point, Wallace requested a meeting with President Johnson. The next day they met and Wallace convinced him to allow the march to take place and that Wallace would protect the marchers. Later, Wallace said he could not afford the cost so LBJ federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers. Wallace tried to seem defiant still by addressing a joint session of the Alabama Legislature to complain about the cost of meeting the marchers needs. The march took place and Wallace hired people to film the march hoping for something negative to show the world about these marchers. He wasted 35,000 dollars of state funds and had nothing to show for it except the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Wallace’s defiance was carefully planned and helped bolster his support that segregation was going too fast. Within twenty-four hours of the stand and the schoolhouse door, Medger Evers was killed. Showing that violence was nowhere near its end. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to Dan Rather about his fear of Wallace and his racism. He said that Wallace was “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today…I am not sure that he believes all the poison he preaches, but he is artful enough to convince others that he does”. George Wallace’s popular governorship continued quietly allowing violence to flourish. His public comments regarding race incited violence throughout the south. He never personally condoned violence but he appealed to simpleminded racists. (Raines, 2000) His words spoke to them and drove them to violence, with they felt was fully justified and in the words of the man who murdered Medger Evers, “Killing that nigger gave me no more inner discomfort than our wives endure when they give birth to our children. We ask them to do that for us. We should do just as much”. A leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference met with Wallace and reminded him that his “stand up for segregation” comments sounded like a battle cry to use violence to defend segregation. He continued as Carter describes “Reckless disregard” for his words interpretation. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of this disregard after the four girls were killed in the Birmingham bombing. King said, “The Governor said things and did things which caused these people to feel that they were aided and abetted by the highest officer in the state. The murders of yesterday stand as blood on the hands of Governor Wallace.” Many might have called King’s words a stretch but they had the statistics to back them up. Under Wallace’s tenure, beatings and bombings were common, as under previous administrations, but under his predecessors prosecutions were carried out. Twelve were killed in Alabama in civil rights slayings during Wallace’s first term. Among those twelve, there were only two convictions. District attorney’s appointed for life or “owned” their election had little motive to prosecute the murders. Wallace’s appointment of an unqualified man to the director of the highway patrol led segregationist offenders calling to report their crimes and still getting acquitted. The incompetent director prematurely arrested suspects in the Birmingham bombing which let to their own convictions taking decades. (Raines, 2000) Johnson continued Kennedy’s push for civil rights amendments. He eventually passed them and it further pushed Wallace into the spotlight. After his term ended his wife Laureen ran and won the governorship for Alabama while Wallace decided to run for the president. Forming his own party the American Independence Party he campaigned throughout the nation. His rhetorical abilities sat well with a lot of people through the nation and he ended up with 9.9 million votes and 46 Electoral College votes. He had the best showing for a 3rd party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt. Wallace’s separation from the Democratic Party sent southerners in droves to the Republican Party. 10 In 1970, Wallace ran for his second term as governor and rejoined the Democratic Party. He campaigned with an even more racist tone than before stating, “If I don’t win, them niggers are going to control this state”. His campaign won easily and shortly after winning he began campaigning for the 1972 Presidential Campaign as a Democrat. Wallace was doing well in the primaries until May 15th when he was shot five times at a campaign rally in a Maryland shopping center. The next day he won the Maryland and Michigan primaries. He survived the assassination attempt but he was left paralyzed in both legs and suffered from intense physical pain for the rest of his life. When Wallace was out of the south he tried to reform his ideas as being against Alabamians being forced to do something and that the question was over interferences with the state and in his own words, that “I was not against non discrimination and that was exactly what the 1964 civil rights bill did”. In his book, Wallace continually avoids the subject of racism and instead repaints it under the guise of state’s rights. He talks of his travels across the country with speeches where he speaks about the civil rights bill being a way for the federal government to take over and that it was a precursor to communism. His words were carefully chosen to speak directly to people’s fears. Wallace was a true politician and wherever he went whether California or Wisconsin he deliberately catered his words to them. Enough time had passed where the images of violence associated with Wallace and the civil rights movement had faded. Many would debate whether this was the turning point for him as far as racism goes. Wallace all his life denied being a racist and that segregation was just right. Wallace courted leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, The American Nazi Party, the Minutemen, and the National State’s Rights Party. These associations seemed very questionable for Wallace’s lifelong claims to not be a racist. Wallace’s unqualified highway patrol director even brought a bail bondsman to the prison to help release a Ku Klux Klan member. Wallace’s appointee’s the state’s Parole Board released many Klansmen early accused of terrorism. Wallace faded from the political scene for many years after his paralysis. Until in 1982, Wallace decided to once again run for governor for a forth term. This forth term was the beginning of the changes in Wallace’s attitude towards blacks. Whether it was driven by guilt or by the changing political winds and his sense of following what the majority of Alabamian’s believed; that segregation was wrong. His campaign had many attempts at redemption, but still remained hesitant to apologize or acknowledge his blatant racism. During the campaign of 1982, he spoke to a group of farmers and stated, “I’m not apologizing for anything” and that “I stood for what I stood for because I believed, like most white people of Alabama at the time, that segregation was right…” (Harris, 1982). His statements could just reflect that he like most people recognized that segregation wasn’t right in the end and the only way they could learn it was the hard way but also, with his disregard to life and liberty of African-American’s that he realized the old ways of the south had died and that he must adapt or be left behind it as a racist bigot. So as most politicians would do he adapted. He worked to rework his image into one that he was just wrong like everyone else and was not an evil man. Wallace said, “Some of my attitudes were mistaken, but I haven’t been an evil man. I never intentionally hurt anybody. I never advocated anything for the devil.” Whether Wallace actually never intentionally hurt anyone will never truly be known but his reluctance, during the campaign, shows he might have something to hide. He asked the reporters not to ask him anything else about that and that it was a long time ago and ancient history. During the campaign he made his small attempts at appealing to blacks. He told the farther of a girl barred from grade school that if Wallace cared about black children that he loved children of any race and that he sent money to fight hunger in Africa and Hati. Yet the irony is that many blacks actually did vote for him. They saw him as a redeemed man and they felt he was truly sorry for the past and slowly during the primary campaign Wallace won over blacks and ended up winning. Wallace’s forth term ad governor was one that was vastly different that his previous ones. He began his term at the same spot where he made that famous segregation forever speech. This time he spoke of “justice and mercy” for all. His pledge was even led by an African-American. His speech was devoted to the poor and helping Alabama out of its current economic problems, he didn’t mention his usual rhetoric for state’s rights or activist judges in the US Supreme Court. He apologized for his past hostility towards civil rights. Yet still he said at other times, “I’m not apologizing for anything”. The true Wallace paradox is that no one will ever know if he was a changed man or a man who plays to the people. Wallace seemed to be a new man for absolutely all appearances, his press secretary was a black man and his press secretary said that, if someone threatened to hurt George Wallace, he’d be the first to get his gun. Wallace’s forth term broke every record for black appointments in the nation. Wallace even made history by returning to the University of Alabama and crowing its first black homecoming queen in 1983. 20 Wallace decided not to run for reelection and retired in 1987. His pain and paralysis left him in poor shape. He spent his final years still being ambiguous about his motives or his real beliefs and continued to be a man of contradiction. Years after his retirement in 1993, he attended a National Black Mayors Conference in Tuskegee. Most thought he wouldn’t come but he did even with incredible pain and suffering he forced himself to go. Perhaps he went out of guilt, or continuing his last administrations direction of following the political winds, or perhaps being a truly changed man. At the mayor’s conference, the black mayor’s speak of Wallace as a redeemed man. In his office in 1993, there are no pictures of his past battles with desegregation. In his 1993 interview he continually brought up reasons he clearly wasn’t racist, that he got a honorary law degree from Tuskegee University in 1985 or that he had more black people working for him than the Boston Globe, which was the newspaper doing the interview, he even brought out a photo of a black girl with “I love you” written on the back. He said about the photo, “If I was a bad man, you year, if I was a bad man, she wouldn’t have written that. She wouldn’t have, no, not if I was a bad man, I’m not a bad man”. He continued on about the photo. It’s not certain whether it was regret or denial that led him to constantly defend himself unwarranted.
However, Wallace’s life is full of contradictions in his public and personal life. In his young days as Governor and as a Presidential candidate he was the symbol of segregation and the stand against civil rights for many Americans. As the political winds changed so did he. Perhaps he might have changed his mind like many others did once they saw what was wrong with their actions and perhaps a politician, like him, is unable to admit his mistakes. Nonetheless, his actions in the past helped rally people to his cause and the Civil Right’s. His last term was perhaps the most progressive in racial equality in the history of Alabama and it’s clear he recognizes some wrongs in his past but his place in history will be paradox for many.

Carter, Dan. The Politics Of Rage. Baton Rouge, Lousiana: LSU University Press, 1995.
Cornwell, Rupert. "Obituary: George Wallace." The Independant, September 15, 1998.
Dorman, Michael. The George Wallace Myth. New York, New York: Bantom Books, 1976.
Greenhaw, Wayne. Watch Out for George Wallace. Englewood, New Jersy: Prentice hall inc, 1976.
Harris, Art. "George Wallace's Visions and Revisions." The Washington Post, September 1, 1982.
Haygood, Wil. "George Wallace Faces His Demons." The Boston Globe, December 2, 1993.
Raines, Howell. "The Murderous Era of George C. Wallace." The New York Times, April 26, 2000.
Rawls, Wendell. "Wallace Takes 4th Oath as Governor of Alabama." The New York Times, January 18, 1983.
Wallace, George. Stand Up For America. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company inc, 1976.

[ 1 ]. Dan Carter, The Politics Of Rage (Baton Rouge, Lousiana: LSU University Press, 1995). p. 120
[ 2 ]. Dan Carter, The Politics Of Rage (Baton Rouge, Lousiana: LSU University Press, 1995). p. 151
[ 3 ]. Wayne Greenhaw, Watch Out for George Wallace (Englewood, New Jersy: Prentice hall inc, 1976). p 170
[ 4 ]. Wayne Greenhaw, Watch Out for George Wallace (Englewood, New Jersy: Prentice hall inc, 1976). p. 187
[ 5 ]. Dan Carter, The Politics Of Rage (Baton Rouge, Lousiana: LSU University Press, 1995). p. 154
[ 6 ]. Dan Carter, The Politics Of Rage (Baton Rouge, Lousiana: LSU University Press, 1995). p. 162
[ 7 ]. Dan Carter, The Politics Of Rage (Baton Rouge, Lousiana: LSU University Press, 1995). p. 154
[ 8 ]. Howell Raines, "The Murderous Era of George C. Wallace," The New York Times, April 26, 2000.
[ 9 ]. Howell Raines, "The Murderous Era of George C. Wallace," The New York Times, April 26, 2000.
[ 10 ]. Rupert Cornwell, "Obituary: George Wallace," The Independant, September 15, 1998.
[ 11 ]. George Wallace, Stand Up For America (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company inc, 1976). P. 35
[ 12 ]. George Wallace, Stand Up For America (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company inc, 1976). p. 107
[ 13 ]. Michael Dorman, The George Wallace Myth (New York, New York: Bantom Books, 1976). p. 80
[ 14 ]. Michael Dorman, The George Wallace Myth (New York, New York: Bantom Books, 1976).p. 84
[ 15 ]. Art Harris, "George Wallace's Visions and Revisions," The Washington Post, September 1, 1982.
[ 16 ]. Art Harris, "George Wallace's Visions and Revisions," The Washington Post, September 1, 1982.
[ 17 ]. Wendell Rawls, "Wallace Takes 4th Oath as Governor of Alabama," The New York Times, January 18, 1983.
[ 18 ]. Rupert Cornwell, "Obituary: George Wallace," The Independant, September 15, 1998.
[ 19 ]. Wil Haygood, "George Wallace Faces His Demons," The Boston Globe, December 2, 1993.
[ 20 ]. Wendell Rawls, "Wallace Takes 4th Oath as Governor of Alabama," The New York Times, January 18, 1983.
[ 21 ]. Wil Haygood, "George Wallace Faces His Demons," The Boston Globe, December 2, 1993.

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