George C. Wallace, Heart-Felt Populist or Racist Demagogue

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By Michael F. Hughes
EARLY LIFE

“George Corley Wallace was born in Clio, Alabama on August 25, 1919. In 1936, while a student at Barbour County High School he won the state Golden Gloves bantamweight championship; he successfully defended his title the following year. He was also a star on the school football team. He entered the University of Alabama Law School in 1937 and received his law degree in 1942. While at the University, Wallace served as president of the freshman class, was captain of both his boxing team and the freshman class baseball team, and was a member of the law school honor court. On May 21, 1943 Wallace married Lurleen Burns. He subsequently enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew nine combat missions over Japan before being discharged for medical reasons in 1945.”

The Robinson Library …

There was a lot more to young George. Clio was an integrated town of only 800 to 900 souls in dirt poor depression era Barbour County. Although George’s father was a heavy drinker often involved in squabbles and rather unsuccessful, his Grandfather was the town Doctor and young George often accompanied the good doctor on his rounds. By the age of five George developed a habit of visiting the courthouse area and shaking hands and welcoming newcomers into town. In 1935 George won a contest to become a page at the State Legislature. That same year George is reputed to have stood on the Statehouse steps and vowed to become governor someday. Setting the woods on fire.

A PERSONAL TOUCH

My own memory of George Wallace began in 1963 when he gained national attention as the segregationist governor of Alabama on a speaking tour supporting state’s rights against unwanted intrusion by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and pending civil rights legislation. As a student at tiny Marian College in Indianapolis, I had already made a name for myself and received minor news coverage as a civil rights activist opposed to remnants of Jim Crow in the state capitol, specifically citing segregated drinking fountains at a popular nearby park and a whites only policy at popular Riverside Amusement Park. My lone stand had inspired picketing by the NAACP and a change in policy. As an ardent supporter of President John F. Kennedy and Labor Democrat, I regarded Wallace as just a fly in the ointment to be swept away by the wind of change sweeping the country. But an unexpected incident was to pique my interest in and temper my appraisal of the career and legacy of Governor Wallace from that time forward.

I had caught a local news report in the presence of my landlady Mrs. Ray White, a retired tailor. The report depicted Wallace as a racist demagogue. As I got up to leave Mrs. White, who was also like a second mother to me, said “You know Mike, George isn’t like that at all. He likes Negroes. And he is a good man. He does a lot of good for his state, building roads and schools and getting industry for the benefit of everybody. He even took on a crowd of whites pestering a poor Negro man, and that little man drove off those bad men single handedly. You can ask Ray Junior, he was there

Really, I replied, what was Ray doing down in Alabama?

“Ray Jr. was Wallace’s roommate at the University of Alabama. Ask him about it next time he comes to pick up his son. He has lots of Wallace stories to tell.”

When the opportunity arrived, I button holed Ray; this resulted in a series of conversations regarding Wallace and many other issues of the day. Paraphrasing Ray about Wallace: George was a real pistol; he had an unconscious strut in his walk and aggressiveness that made him seem much larger than he was. The fellas used to call him the little Banty Rooster. When I asked about the Negro incident he reported it the following way: The two of them had decided to take a break from evening studies to walk off campus for a sandwich. They came across a group of white men baiting a shabbily dressed Negro. George said “Excuse me I have to stop this from getting ugly.” George took a protective position in front of the beleaguered man and said “Just hold on there, if you want to bully someone, I’m a little guy, try me.” As one of them stepped forward George gave him a hard shove with the heel of his hand right in the gut. When another stepped up Georg repeated the maneuver. Despite some murmuring the crowd backed off and George and I walked the man to safety. I’m 6-3 and that may have influenced the rowdies, but George hadn’t asked for my help and didn’t seem to need any.

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Over the next months Ray shared many little gems about George, the student, which I can only paraphrase here: George and I were never that close because outside our room we led different lives. I was a golfer and socialite. George was different from all of us. He seemed to know everyone on campus and it seemed he could call every one of them by name even the colored help working on campus. George was not active in the social set; in his free time George would go out knocking on doors around town, introducing himself , sharing his plan to enter politics and asking their concerns.

Sometimes after studying late, we would drift into conversation. But it was mostly George just talking; because once he got started he would ramble on too fast for me to get a word in edge wise. He might start with a story from his boyhood and as he got deeper into it, it seemed to me he was rehearsing a political speech. Once he was joking about the very poor people he encountered on his grandfather’s doctor rounds, and how the people would apologize for having no money, but insist the doctor accept an egg or something they could spare. Once an elderly Negro lady pressed him to accept a chicken, but had to withdraw the offer because it was her best laying hen. The doctor accepted a baby chick and promised young George would take care of it. And there George launched into a speech that went something like this; “You know the American Negro didn’t ask to come here, they were brought here in chains, kept in the chains of slavery, and now they along with poor white people are chained by poverty and ignorance. Jobs and education are the only tools to break these chains forever.”

George often make little jokes about how little Negro children and white children played the same child hood games, knew the same rhymes and songs and made no racial distinctions until taught to do so. Once an older boy had chided him for playing with N****** and he laughed and said “I was too busy playing to notice the difference;” They he added, “You know we all bleed the same color red.” Suddenly he went off in a somewhat different direction. “If you’ve been to Mobile and walked around the port area and the great ship yards you will see workmen and skilled craftsman of every shade and color. They work side by side, take lunch together and can be found in the taverns after work having a drink together. They are prosperous, handsome and happy with their lot in life. I want to bring that to the rural folks of Alabama.”

THE PUBLIC RECORD

An examination of the acknowledged public record reveals that the George C. Wallace remembered by Ray White Jr. is the true Wallace. George was admittedly a segregationist and surely a demagogue. But he was far more a populist than a racist. He garnered his reputation in his famous Inaugural speech with the applause line, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” And it is by far the most quoted line of all his speeches. But that line is only a small part of a long and eloquent speech.

After five minutes of thanking individuals, groups and precincts, including those who did not vote for him, Wallace launched the body of the speech with an attack on the liquor agents and free whiskey, promising them a ride out of Alabama because the money can be better spent on education and promised no drinking in the Governor’s Mansion. He next spoke of a duty to senior citizens, farmers and the laboring man and the need to increase markets and income. He spoke of the need for education for all. He recalled the recent events in Mississippi where federal troops were called in to quell riots resulting from the court ordered desegregation of the University in Oxford. He attacked Federal Judges for their interference and put the blood on their hands.

Wallace went on to praise true Alabama patriots including those who had left the state in search of better fortune. He pointed to the rich natural resources of Alabama, including its many waterways, ports, timberlands, rich farm lands and livestock. He claimed that Alabama had ten per cent of the natural resources of the country and huge potential. He also mentioned the Rocket Center Huntsville with great pride. His point was that Alabama was poised to begin an era of great prosperity if only its people were educated, industry developed and its many resources exploited.

The threat of centralized big government he regarded as a threat to the coming prosperity. “Governments don’t produce wealth, people do.” He pointed to the evils of Reconstruction and high taxation. The unwarranted interference of the Federal Courts “dictates fear, not faith.” He made appeals to history and religious faith. He pointed out that we did not need a unit of one, but rather a unit of many. Governor Wallace also hinted at his future run for president vowing to take his message to a greater audience of people who share the beliefs of Alabamians. Late in his speech he spoke the most unquoted line; “We invite the Negro citizen of Alabama to work with us from his separate racial station to grow in individual freedom and enrichment.” LINK: George Wallace/Encyclopedia.com

That is clearly segregationist and remained his position until desegregation was a fiat accompli. But in Wallace’s eyes and the eyes of many at this time racial segregation was regarded as good for both races. The North had de facto segregation which did not for a long time fall under pressure from the SCOTUS as did the de juris segregation south of the Mason Dixon line. For example, Indianapolis which had begun with non segregated schools created the renowned Crispus Attucks all black high school over stiff opposition in 1919. Gary, Indiana in the industrial north had Gary Roosevelt as its only designated all black high school. Roosevelt excelled in both academics and sports for many years as did Attucks. Similar situations existed in many areas of the country.

Soon after taking office Wallace embarked on a national speaking tour. It was coverage of his speech at UCLA that brought Wallace to my attention. By then Wallace had refined his message. His speech was essentially a warning against the unbridled power of a central government. He stressed the need for open debate and adherence to constitutional checks and balances. He strongly supported property and individual rights as well as seniority rights within trade unions. Wallace was strongly opposed to the pending Civil Rights Act of 1963 as a usurpation of those God given individual rights in the name of human rights and favored by social engineers and the liberal press. In response to questions regarding his positions and the charge of racism he stated:

“In my public life I have never made a single solitary remark that reflected on any man because of his race, color, creed or national origin. God loves all of us. Segregation serves the interest of both groups. ..I supported the largest Negro trade school in the south, and served two years on the chair of Tuskegee Institute. ..Also opened eight new trade schools and junior colleges,…a solution to train Negros for jobs and a good standard of living. .. civil rights is not a moral issue it is political. If they cared about they cared about morality they would address the far greater Indian problem, but there are not enough left to form a voting bloc. As for the Civil Rights Act he said it would take a police state to enforce it. “

LINK: George Wallace UCLA Address, Jan 10, 1963

It is unfortunate that Wallace had to appeal to racism and the unease of people all over the country regarding open housing and busing as a major part of his populism. In action he was a true populist and fair judge.

GEORGE WALLACE IN OFFICE

“Wallace’s political career began in 1946 when he was elected to the State Legislature. During his tenure he sponsored bills that helped Alabama gain more than one hundred new industries; he also drafted legislation that resulted in the G. I. and Dependents Scholarship Act, designed to aid the children and widows of war casualties.

In 1953 Wallace was elected to a Judgeship in the Third District Court; he held the position until 1959”

Ob sit; Robinson’s LINK

While sitting on the bench Wallace got a smattering of national attention for his fairness in adjudicating cases involving Negro plaintiffs. Attorney and civil rights advocate J. L. Chestnut remembered Wallace as the first Alabama judge to address him and his clients as Mister and to require the defense council to do the same.

After losing the race for Governor in 1958 running as a moderate progressive to avowed racist John Patterson , Wallace began to take a more hard line stance. That stance helped Wallace win large pluralities to become Governor in 1963. The governorship provided Wallace the platform for his subsequent presidential aspirations.

“Between 1963 and 1987, George Wallace held a virtual monopoly on the governor’s office in Alabama, a position from which he promoted low-grade industrial development, low taxes, and trade schools as the keys to the state’s future. He was elected governor for an unprecedented four terms in 1962, 1970, 1974, and 1982 and was de facto governor during the administration of his first wife, Laurleen Burns Wallace, from 1967 to 1968….During each election cycle, he modified his racial views to suit the times.”

“The principal achievement of Wallace’s first term was an innovation in Alabama industrial development that several other states copied: he was the first Southern governor to travel to corporate headquarters in northern states to offer tax abatements and other incentives to companies willing to locate plants in Alabama.

LINK: Encyclopedia of Alabama

“He also initiated a junior college system that now has spread throughout the state, preparing many students to complete four-year degrees at Auburn University, UAB or the University of Alabama. The University of South Alabama, a new state university in Mobile was chartered in 1963 during Wallace’s first year in office as governor.”

“The Encyclopedia Britannica characterized him not so much a segregationist, but more of a populist who pandered to the white majority of Alabama voters” …Jack Newfield wrote in 1971 that Wallace “recently has been sounding like a William Jennings Bryan as he attacked concentrated wealth n his speeches”.

LINK: George Wallace/Wikipedia page

Evidence cited above clearly identifies Wallace as a heartfelt populist and an opportunist segregationist. But our interest remains with Wallace the demagogue campaigner. Wallace campaigned for president as a Democrat in 1964 in an election he knew he could not win. As indicated by his speech at UCLA, his candidacy was aimed more at alerting Americans to the evils of big government. Ob cit.UCLA

His best remembered campaign was the run he made as an independent and where the flower of his demagoguery reached full bloom.

“Wallace ran for President in the 1968 election as the American Independent Party candidate, with Curtis Lemay as his candidate for Vice President. Wallace hoped to force the House of Representatives to decide the election with one voter per state if he could obtain sufficient electoral votes to make him a power broker. Wallace hoped that southern states could use their clout to end federal efforts at desegregation. His platform contained generous increases for beneficiaries of social security and Medicare. Wallace’s foreign policy positions set him apart from the other candidate in the field. “If the Vietnam War was not winnable within 90 days of his taking office, Wallace pledged an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops…Wallace described foreign aid as money ‘poured down a rat hole’ and demanded that European and Asian allies pay more for their defense… In 1968 when Wallace pledged that “If some anarchist lies down in front of my automobile, it will be the last automobile he will ever lie down in front of,” and asserted that the only four letter words of which hippies did not know were w-o-r-k and s-o-a-p his rhetoric became famous. He accused Humphrey and Nixon of wanting to radically desegregate the South. Wallace said “There is not a dimes worth of difference between the Republicans and democrats.”

LINK: Wikipedia

You had to be there to appreciate the full flavor of Wallace’s demagoguery. In one appearance Wallace scared himself when the crowd became so whipped up they started to storm out of the arena to take direct action. He succeeded in preventing a riot and toned down his rhetoric after that. But sometimes fights broke out when “protesters” loudly interrupted his speech. At the Hammond Civic Center he was in full form. He attacked the pointy headed Liberals and the fat cats in Washington storming against federal intrusion at every level. Denying individual liberties, destroying neighborhoods with open housing and forced school busing, threatening the rights of Union Members forbidding prayer in schools and the whole litany of Court ordered and legislative abuses. But there was a forgotten aspect of this campaign: It made a profit.

Wallace rallies took on the flavor of old time religion revivals, complete with stirring music and esthetic injunctions; and an appeal for donations to the cause. Colonel Sanders provided empty buckets to be filled with donations from the frenzied devotees, and they were filled with everything from coins to twenty dollar bills. George C. Wallace did not fund his campaign with huge donations from AIPAC, big banks, the petro chemical giants or any other big money group dominating current politics. His funding came from ordinary, mostly working class, citizens who believed in his message. That is his message and legacy for these troubling times.

Much of the Wallace appeal was his strong support of law and order and patriotism. This country needs a big dose of law and order right now. This country needs a demagogue. We need a man that can move the people to overcome the criminal syndicates who have stolen this country with filthy fiat money. We need a demagogue to expose the criminality of government at all levels in language understood by the common man. We need a fighting demagogue to take on the Zionist thugs and criminal cabals, and bring them to justice or drive them from the country. The people are waiting for a messenger with the guts and charisma to move a crowd, and inspire them to demand justice and a renewal of democratic rule. Just as Wallace gave the liquor agents a ride out of Alabama, we need a hero to give the dual citizens, Zionists and criminals a ride out of the USA.

GEORGE WALLACE QUOTES

“This is not race I’m talking about. Every time I mention this they say it has racial overtones. When does it come to have racial overtones in this country to stand for law and order?”

“I was born and raised among black people and they’re my friends.”

“Why does the Air Force need expensive new bombers? Have the people we’ve been bombing over the years been complaining?”

“They’re building a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia.”

NOTES:

Setting the woods on fire, a two part show from THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE ON PBS gives a sympathetic and insightful account of Wallace’s life and career.
The citations in the body of this work can be easily located as a “George Wallace” net query.

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