John Lewis - Forgiving George Wallace
- Here's some more of the discussion on G. Wallace from H-SOUTH..aj wright
From: timothy tyson [mailto:tbtyson@...]
This appeared in the New York Times after Wallace died. The "essence of the
civil rights movement" as it appears here is somewhat romanticized, but
Lewis is a bonafide hero from Alabama who has certainly more than earned his
right to speak. Many of you may have already seen this but I thought I
would send it along for those who missed it.
from THE NEW YORK TIMES ---
>>September 16, 1998Timothy B. Tyson
>> Forgiving George Wallace
>> By JOHN LEWIS
>> WASHINGTON -- Growing up in rural Alabama
>> during the 1950's, it was hard not to know who
>> George Wallace was.
>> Mr. Wallace, first as a circuit judge and then as Governor,
>> fought the civil rights movement with every fiber of his
>> being. He was a demagogue whose words and actions
>> created a climate that allowed for violent reprisals against
>> those seeking to end racial discrimination.
>> As one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, I
>> remember that George Wallace well. But the George
>> Wallace who sent troops to intimidate peaceful, orderly
>> marchers in Selma in 1965 was not the same man who died
>> this week. With all his failings, Mr. Wallace deserves
>> recognition for seeking redemption for his mistakes, for his
>> willingness to change and to set things right with those he
>> harmed and with his God.
>> Rarely does our country witness such a conversion by an
>> elected official. Such a conversion of principle can be
>> shaped only by courage and conviction.
>> I will never forget Mr. Wallace's inaugural address as
>> Governor in 1963. Looking defiant, he declared,
>> "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation
>> forever." That day, my heart sank. I knew his defense of
>> "states' rights" was really a defense of the status quo in
>> Mr. Wallace used the language of rage and hate to rise to
>> power and to become a force in national politics. Staring
>> down Federal officials, he told every black American that he
>> or she was not welcome at the University of Alabama.
>> The Alabama of the 1950's and 1960's was a turbulent
>> place. African-Americans were seeking to desegregate
>> restaurants, bathrooms and buses and to secure the right to
>> vote. Governor Wallace and his allies drew in every
>> available resource to stem the tide of progress.
>> A showdown was inevitable. Much of the bloodshed in
>> Alabama occurred on Governor Wallace's watch. Although
>> he never pulled a trigger or threw a bomb, he created the
>> climate of fear and intimidation in which those acts were
>> deemed acceptable.
>> Although we had long been adversaries, I did not meet
>> Governor Wallace until 1979. During that meeting, I could
>> tell that he was a changed man; he was engaged in a
>> campaign to seek forgiveness from the same
>> African-Americans he had oppressed. He acknowledged his
>> bigotry and assumed responsibility for the harm he had
>> caused. He wanted to be forgiven.
>> The very essence of the civil rights movement was its appeal
>> to the conscience of those who beat us with batons, attacked
>> us with dogs and stood defiantly at the schoolhouse door.
>> We wanted our enemies to know that every blow they
>> struck was a blow against another human being. The
>> bloodshed that resulted was the blood of all humanity.
>> When I met George Wallace, I had to forgive him, because
>> to do otherwise -- to hate him -- would only perpetuate the
>> evil system we sought to destroy.
>> George Wallace should be remembered for his capacity to
>> change. And we are better as a nation because of our
>> capacity to forgive and to acknowledge that our political
>> leaders are human and largely a reflection of the social
>> currents in the river of history.
>> Whether at the bridge in Selma, at a bombed church in
>> Birmingham or on the schoolhouse steps, George Wallace
>> and I were thrust together by fate, by our personal
>> conviction and principle and by what I like to call the spirit
>> of history. The civil rights movement achieved its goals in
>> the person of Mr. Wallace, because he grew to see that we
>> as human beings are joined by a common bond.
>> I can never forget what George Wallace said and did as
>> Governor, as a national leader and as a political opportunist.
>> But our ability to forgive serves a higher moral purpose in
>> our society. Through genuine repentance and forgiveness,
>> the soul of our nation is redeemed. George Wallace deserves
>> to be remembered for his effort to redeem his soul and in so
>> doing to mend the fabric of American society.
>> John Lewis, a Democratic member of the House of
>> Representatives from Georgia, is the author of ``Walking
>> With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.''
Department of Afro-American Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison
4137 Helen C. White, 600 North Park
Madison, WI 53716
"The world is real. It is there."--Robert Penn Warren