GEORGE CORLEY WALLACE, RIP | 1998-09-19
In the wake of the death of George Wallace, I am sick and tired about all the talk of his "apology" for his prosegregation stand. In his last interview, they asked him if he regretted anything. He started to make the ritual apology, then sat back and smiled, and said "No."
You are not going to see a repeat of that interview often.
The whole point of paying any attention to Wallace, from the media's point of view, was to get to his apologies for having been an Evil Racist.
Otherwise, he didn't exist.
Bill Moyers, PBS' official political historian, showed a Humphrey for President ad from the 1968 election. In its original form, this ad consisted of quotes from Nixon and Wallace, and it then contradicted them, and showed a balloon bursting with each "wrong statement. In the Moyers' version, the Wallace part of the ad was cut out, question by question! According to the Moyers version, Wallace did not exist in 1968.
Moyers put Wallace, quite literally, right down the Orwellian Memory Hole!
In 1968, the Wallace vote, which got as high as 22% in the polls, was the most historically significant for the future of politics. It was the first movement of white Southerners and Northern white ethnics out of the Democratic Party. The Wallace Democrats of 1968 became the Reagan Democrats of 1980.
It is not surprising that Moyers simply cut Wallace out of political history. The Wallace phenomenon did not fit PBS' version of Social Progress in History, so it was removed without a whisper of objection.
I met Governor George Wallace twice, once when he was on his feet and the second time when he was in his wheelchair.
The second time was in 1976. In 1976 I had written a book, A Plague On Both Your Houses, which discussed Wallace's importance to political history. Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee who had a huge lead in his presidential race against Gerald Ford, was in Montgomery waiting to see Wallace, but the Governor wanted to talk to me. His wife called twice while I was there, and the last time he picked up the phone, said, "I'm COMIN'!" and hung up.
He wanted to talk to me because I took his historical role seriously. He preferred that to playing second fiddle to Carter.
As he wheeled out of the room, he was still talking furiously: "If I had my legs and you were working for me, we'd have gone places!" He also said he wished he had had a chance to hire me earlier.
In 1968, in the midst of Wallace's historic third party run for the presidency, I went to Montgomery with Maurice Bessinger and Lake High in an attempt to get Wallace to turn his campaign over to us and our Independent Party. The guy he was handing the campaign over to in South Carolina was either a ringer or a fool. We were told that he reported to a Republican Party committee every week. But he had the nicest, most respectable friends! This same guy, to whom Wallace turned over his 1968 campaign, is now South Carolina's leading far leftist. In the end, Wallace ignored our advice and South Carolina became the only state in the Deep South that Wallace lost.
Wallace lost South Carolina in 1968 by succumbing to the "respectability" gambit.
He made a great point of getting "working people" to support him in the North, because only working people WOULD support him there. But in the Deep South, where he had more general support, he chose to reject those of us who dealt with real working people. In South Carolina he wanted to go with the coat-and-tie crowd. The Republicans, of course, owned the support of that coat-and-tie crowd. So Nixon won South Carolina in 1968.
In the end, Wallace renounced his earlier views and pursued respectability. Time after time, year after year, he did the Southern Crawl, begging Yankess to forgive him for ever having been a segregationist. Southern conservatives love to do the ritual Southern Crawl. To be a respectable Southern conservative, you have to love to beg for forgiveness. And Yankees love to watch them do it.
But in his last time in public, George seems to have gotten his pride back.
In the end, George refused to do that one last Crawl. The Moyers' and the conservative respectables will remember George's years of snivelling. But those of us who never have been respectable remember him at the beginning and at the end, when he stood tall.
In the wake of the death of George Wallace, I am sick and tired about all the talk of his "apology" for his prosegregation stand. Every bad thing we segregationists predicted integration would bring has happened, and it was the integrationists who were, as they always are, dead wrong. Eleven years ago, when I was a Senior Editor of Southern Partisan, they made the ritual apology for Evil Southern Racism. I blew my stack in the following reply. It was written in 1987. I stand by it today.