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Re: George Wallace--3 replies

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  • Terence Finnegan
    ... From: Gene B. Preuss [mailto:z8m02@TTACS.TTU.EDU] I am glad to see the input on George Wallace s place in US/Southern history. Ironically enough, Wallace
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 1998
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      ...and some more...aj wright

      ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
      From: Gene B. Preuss [mailto:z8m02@...]

      I am glad to see the input on George Wallace's place in US/Southern history.
      Ironically enough, Wallace died at about the same time his life story won an
      Emmy for Gary Sinise's TNT portrayal of the Alabama politician.

      Also, at the same time the media blitz on the White House caused me to
      wonder how history will judge our current president. While Congress decides
      whether or not William Clinton committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors while
      attempting to cover up his sexual peccadilloes with interns, it seems the
      American public has forgiven and forgotten the crimes George Wallace

      How many African Americans lost their property, lives, jobs, because of the
      type of attitudes that Wallace promoted. Even if he only embraced
      segregation and racist paternalism because it was politically expedient, the
      fact that he appealed to many "true believers" only makes it worse--that so
      many suffered because he wanted to get elected. In his November 1964
      interview with Playboy magazine, Wallace brushed aside the violence against
      Southern Blacks in Birmingham and other cities. He told the interviewer,
      "The white people of the South raised the Negro to where he is today. The
      Negro's best friend has been the Southern white man, and the Southern white
      man has had a good friend in the Negro." When we think of the violence the
      Freedom Riders encountered at Anniston, the fire hoses unleashed upon
      demonstrators in Birmingham, and Bloody Sunday in Montgomery, the figure of
      Governor George Wallace lurked in the shadows. In 1965 President Lyndon
      Johnson knew what Wallace was about when he responded to Wallace's
      protestations that as Alabama governor he could do nothing to protect Civil
      Rights workers by saying, "Don't you shit me George Wallace." Johnson asked
      Wallace how he wanted to be remembered in death, with a massive monument
      that read, "George Wallace--he built," or with a pitiful, wooden tombstone
      upon which was scrawled, "George Wallace--he hated."

      It is upon these contrasting images that the US and the South will now have
      to decide how George C. Wallace will be remembered.

      Gene B. Preuss, Editor H-ORALHIST
      Texas Tech University Ph (H) 806/797-4882
      Box 41013 Ph (O) 806/742-2499
      Lubbock, TX 79409-1013
      "Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories,
      false namings of real events." -- Adrienne Rich, U.S. poet.
      In _I've Got the Light of Freedom_, Charles Payne offers a critique of
      media coverage on the Civil Rights Movement. Payne argues that members of
      the media came south with instructions to produce a particular type of
      story (either white-on-black violence or conflict amongst black activists)
      and that they then covered those incidents to the exclusion of other issues.

      Martin Luther King, Jr. commanded the media coverage he needed by offering
      reporters the stories they wanted. The most important case of this was
      Birmingham where King's organization could feel fairly certain of Bull
      Connor's violent response.

      Some of my friends and colleagues in New York have expressed outrage at the
      media reports that took his late conversion to equal rights seriously and
      portrayed him in such human terms. They ask me, "Is this what history will
      remember about this despicable man?" While I would hardly trust my New
      York friends, whom Wallace would have surely labeled as effete, liberal
      elitists, to paint a more "balanced" portrait of this man, I am not
      surprised by the theme of recent media coverage.

      If George Wallace demonstrated anything in his life, it is that he was a
      master of media manipulation. By framing his public life in a way that
      lent itself to simple, dramatic narratives, Wallace assured that the news
      media would tell the story he wanted told. His stand in the school house
      door and later "conversion" were made for TV dramas. Is it any wonder that
      the media coverage of the last week has focused so exclusively on these two

      Charles Payne criticizes Civil Rights Movement historians for adopting the
      themes of journalists and making them into the themes of historical
      analysis. We should be cautious of this in our examination of Wallace.
      While a debate over the sincerity of Wallace's conversion may be of
      interest to journalists and parts of the the reading public, I cannot
      imagine such a debate being intellectually fruitful to historians. Tim
      Tyson correctly directs our attention to the significant question of
      Wallace's impact on national politics. Another interesting discussion might
      surround Wallace's legacy for southern populist traditions. Where have the
      South's economic liberals gone? I find it hard to believe that an old line
      populist cannot survive shorn of racial demogogery, yet I struggle to name
      a single contemporary example. Debate these questions, but please, spare me
      the santimonious debates over whether George Wallace will go to heaven or
      not. History should be trying to understand the complex relationships that
      make up our society. Reducing this complexity to a story of good vs. evil
      is at best unproductive and a worst an exercise in fundamentalist

      Mike Fuquay
      Columbia University
      To Tim Tyson: A brilliant and succinct analysis.

      Jeffrey J. Crow [jcrow@...]
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