Monday, January 14, 2008

...Segregation Forever

Today is the forty-fifth anniversary of George Corley Wallace's swearing-in for his first term as governor of Alabama. After being defeated in the 1958 governor's race by John Patterson, Wallace, according to some--and largely corroborated by Dan T. Carter in his excellent political biography of Wallace, The Politics of Rage--stated that he would never be "out-niggered" in another election. To this point, Wallace had been a protege of "Big Jim" Folsom, governor of Alabama in the 1950s notable for his progressive racial politics. With the rise of "massive resistance" throughout the South in the wake of Brown v. Board of Ed., racial tolerance was no longer tolerated in the white South. At his inauguration on this date, Wallace's speach ended famously, "...segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segegation forever!"

In June of 1963, Wallace made his famous "stand in the schoolhouse door," orchestrated by Wallace and the federal government so that Wallace could make good on his campaign promise, while avoiding the violence that swept the University of Mississippi the previous fall, when US Marshalls had accompanied James Meredith to register for classes at Oxford (the recently retired senior Mississippi senator, Trent Lott, was attending Ole Miss at the time, by the way--no doubt leading cheers). The man standing in front of Wallace in the photo is Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (with his arms folded, looking impatient), assigned by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to see that the two students--Vivian Malone and James Hood--were allowed to register; after Wallace made his speech, he stepped aside and the two were allowed through the schoolhouse door.

Wallace is a seminal, if often overlooked, political figure in the 1960s. In his Presidential campaigns in 1964 and 1968, Wallace was the lightening rod for what we have come to call "white backlash." Nixon was fearful in 1968 that Wallace's run as an independent would siphon off enough votes from white voters to throw the election to Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. The photo above, by the way, is of Wallace speaking at a Barry Goldwater campaign function. As Dan Carter argued in his book, Wallace and the path he blazed in national politics played a vital part in the resurgence of conservative politics--a role that you won't find mentioned in Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism(no link--you can find it on the remainder table at your local bookstore in a couple of weeks), even though Wallace's politics is perhaps the closest we have come to fascism in this country.

Wallace was particularly effective in courting white working-class voters, not only for his racial stance, but because of his economic populism and his derisive put-downs of "pointy-headed intellectuals." Both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (and their handlers), learned much from the two Wallace camapaigns in the Sixties. Wallace's national political career when he was shot and paralyzed by a demented loner from Milwaukee, Arthur Bremer. Wallace spent the rest of this life in a wheelchair, most of it in pain. He attempted another Presidential run in 1976, but the press concentrated on his poor health, and the try was quickly aborted. he was elected governor of Alabama again in 1982 as a born-again Christian, who had made amends with civil rights leaders in the state--and won. Wallace died on September 13, 1998, just weeks after his 79th birthday.

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