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Re: George Wallace--5 replies

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  • Terence Finnegan
    Hello to alabamahistory subscribers...all 4! of us so far..I thought to get things started I d forward these thoughts on G. Wallace from the H-SOUTH list
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 22, 1998
      Hello to alabamahistory subscribers...all 4! of us so far..I thought to get
      things started I'd forward these thoughts on G. Wallace from the H-SOUTH list
      ...I'm beginning to promote the alabamahistory list in various places, but
      feel free to send information about the list to anyone you think might be

      Also, jump in and introduce yourselves if you're so inclined...maybe give
      a little info on what aspects of Alabama history interest you most...my
      personal interest runs to medical history at the moment, although other aspects
      are fascinating as well....

      A.J. Wright, MLS//moderator, alabamahistory
      Dept of Anesthesiology Library
      School of Medicine
      University of Alabama at Birmingham

      ----------------------------Original message----------------------------

      George Wallace was nothing more than a reflection of ourselves. He was a
      bigot, a narrow minded, self-serving chauvinist, just like us. He only stood
      in that
      doorway because we elected him to stand in that doorway, for us. We have
      over the years and so did he. We matured over the years and so did he. He
      change alone, we all change together. George Wallace was just one of our

      Stephen Doiron
      As I understand Wallace's early years, he wanted to get elected because
      were some things he wanted to accomplish and he lost his first governor's
      when his opponent beat him with the race issue. After that he decided he
      never let anyone do that to him again. Later in his life, and I do not just
      because he got shot, he looked at what he had done and scared himself.
      Therefore, Wallace is the most outstanding of the players in the Southern
      Tragedy: Segregation and Race become the only issues.

      Dean Rowley
      Martin Luther King, Jr.
      National Historic Site
      I hope that everyone on the list saw John Lewis's piece in the New York
      Times and also Howell Raines's surprisingly good obituary, which really
      caught the right note toward the end. Most of the rest of the press
      commentary ran from lame to ludicrous.

      First, whether George Wallace changed and redeemed himself in some spiritual
      way is a useful and interesting question only for George Wallace and the
      Almighty. Even if it is true in some sense, nothing he did afterwards went
      very far to undo the damage that he did to this country. His legacy is
      two-fold. First, he was the most malevolent and effective of the white
      supremacist demagogues of his day. This was, of course, for political
      purposes, but there is nothing to suggest that he did not believe it down to
      his bones. For example, as we recall his public spewing of hate we must
      also recall his private intercession to protect those who blew up the
      Sixteenth Street Baptist Church from prosecution; his close association with
      his favorite speechwriter, Asa Carter, head of the most violent chapter of
      the KKK in the South, whose minions castrated a black man pulled off the
      street at random to show Klan power; his vicious and unscrupulous personal
      life whose details make our current President seem quite dignified and
      gentle by comparison.

      Far more damaging is his second act, in which Wallace cleaned up his racial
      rhetoric, stopped saying the n-word in public, stopped mentioning race
      directly, for the most part, and taught the right wing in this country that
      the rust belt suburbs and the "white ethnic" enclaves of the North and
      Midwest were as ripe for coded racial appeals as the white South, and showed
      the Republican Party exactly how to exploit that fact and to destroy the
      Democrats in the South after the African American freedom movement forced
      the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to support interracial democracy.
      This is how the party of big business, the party of the country club,
      became the white working man's party, though there were other (much less
      important) factors at work and though the Democrats certainly aided in their
      own destruction in a variety of ways. But this rendition of the race card
      was unstoppable under the circumstances, and it has swung the entire
      political spectrum "so far to the right that you won't even recognize it,"
      as Attorney General John Mitchell predicted of the beloved "Southern
      strategy" that owed so much to George Wallace and which remains his most
      important political legacy.

      Let me close by adding that I am confident that if George Wallace ascended
      toward the pearly gates last week, that the Almighty was standing in the
      doorway, holding hands with four little girls.
      Tim Tyson
      Re the legacy of George Wallace...

      1. His place in US history is fairly simple. The snarling bantam
      rooster of Southern resistance - the boxer who relished the adulation
      of his (white) constituents in the 1960's and early 70's. The
      politician who proved that Northern whites could be as racist as
      (or more than?) Southern whites.

      2. His place in Alabama history is more complicated, and his
      image there is appropriately more confused. By Southern standards
      he was more liberal than most political contemporaries (leaving
      race aside?).

      3. His later conversion and redemption (who can do more than
      speculate here) are important indicators of change, as is the
      fact that his position on states rights is now more in line with
      the views of many beyond the South as well is within it. An
      interesting contrast here is provided by Strom Thurmond, who,
      although he shifted with the political winds after the Voting Rights
      Act, has never confronted (publicly at least) his earlier white
      supremacist views.

      4. Most of all, his face as he confronted the integrationists will
      remain the most powerful symbol of the cornered animal in the
      Southern white psyche of the 60's.

      Jim Farmer
      Another question I have about Wallace, and I realize we have skated
      around this question on the list in the past, relates to his role as a
      'populist." many people use this term for him, and I am wondering about
      the applicability of the term. I would be willing to say that he was a
      populist, small "p", by the time of the 1968 election. However, I would
      also throw in the caveat that we as historians need to differentiate
      between historical Populism, the late 19th century agrarian insurgency,
      and small "p" populism, which relates to a personal style of governing
      based on an appeal to the masses, usually using class and often race,
      ethnicity or some other wedge issue. I hope this is a helpful and not a
      confusing addition to an important question.

      Derek Catsam
      Contemporary History Institute
      Ohio University
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