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John Lewis - Forgiving George Wallace

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  • Terence Finnegan
    Here s some more of the discussion on G. Wallace from H-SOUTH..aj wright ... From: timothy tyson [mailto:tbtyson@facstaff.wisc.edu] This appeared in the New
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 1998
      Here's some more of the discussion on G. Wallace from H-SOUTH..aj wright

      ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
      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, 1998
      >> 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
      >> Alabama.
      >> 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.''
      Timothy B. Tyson
      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
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