I Dare the Maverick

Since Senator McCain’s spokesmen were so shocked, shocked, that Rep. John Lewis would mention George Wallace when McCain supporters screamed threats at Sen. Barack Obama–

I dare the Maverick to go to any campaign rally in the South and repudiate George Wallace.

Younger people remember George Wallace as a distant racist nightmare. We old ones remember him as the longterm Governor of Alabama, and a candidate for president in 1968. Reading the Wikipedia entry is a trip down memory lane I really can’t handle without Tums, and I’m out of Tums right now. But I’ll paste in what to me is the most damning evidence against George Wallace…

A black lawyer recalls, “Judge George Wallace was the most liberal judge that I had ever practiced law in front of. He was the first judge in Alabama to call me ‘Mister’ in a courtroom.”[2] Later, when a supporter asked why he started using racist messages, Wallace replied, “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”[3]

Failed run for governor

He was defeated by John Patterson in Alabama’s Democratic gubernatorial primary election in 1958, which at the time was the decisive election, the general election still almost always being a mere formality. This was a political crossroads for Wallace. Patterson ran with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization Wallace had spoken against, while Wallace was endorsed by the NAACP.[2] After the election, aide Seymore Trammell recalled Wallace saying, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?… I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.”[2][4] In the wake of his defeat, Wallace adopted hard-line segregationism, and used this stand to court the white vote in the next gubernatorial election.

Let me simplify this. He was not inclined to racial prejudice himself. Perhaps his time in the military had introduced him to a greater America than the Alabama state line. He tried listening to the angels of his better nature. But the angels were losers. So he chose the winning strategy. He played on fear and prejudice for political gain.

Do we look back on Gov. Wallace’s tenure as a time of safety and prosperity for Alabama? He was Governor in 1963 when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed during Sunday service.

At about 10:22 a.m., when 26 children were walking into the basement assembly room for closing prayers of a sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” the bomb exploded [1]. According to an interview on NPR on September 15th 2008, Dennise McNair’s father stated that the sermon never took place because of the bombing [2]. Four girls: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), were killed in the blast, and 22 additional people were injured.

What was the ‘law and order’ Governor’s role?

Civil rights activists blamed George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, for the killings. Only a week before the bombing he had told the New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.”

What was the Governor’s responsibility?

The incompetence of law enforcement in Alabama under Governor Wallace was mind-boggling. District attorneys, many of whom owed their election or appointment to him, felt little pressure to prosecute civil rights murders. When forced to do so by national opinion, they often favored manslaughter over murder indictments.

Most tellingly, Mr. Wallace turned the highway patrol over to Albert J. Lingo, whose lack of law enforcement expertise made him a laughingstock even among segregationists within his own department. Colonel Lingo was famously close to many violent citizens. In one notorious incident, a segregationist gunman reportedly called Mr. Lingo directly from a Black Belt town to say, “I just shot two preachers. You better get on down here.” The shooter was acquitted.

In the 1963 church bombing, Colonel Lingo destroyed the promising investigations being conducted by two seasoned homicide detectives, Ben Allen and James Hancock, by ordering the premature arrest of their chief suspect, Robert (Dynamite Bob) Chambliss. It would be 13 years before Mr. Chambliss could be convicted.

The beauty of power is that you can be sure that it’s only your subordinates who get their hands dirty.

Ultimately George Wallace fell prey to the passions he aroused.

A few people had noticed the “little guy” in red, white, and blue who led the crowd in cheers at a Laurel, Maryland, campaign stop on May 15, 1972. Cameramen had seen him at other Wallace rallies, had even filmed him in Michigan. When the then-anonymous Arthur Bremer finally got the clear shot of Wallace he’d been waiting for, he fired five times at close range. The violent murder of a political figure that Bremer had sought to distinguish his otherwise unremarkable life didn’t happen. Instead, Bremer’s shots paralyzed Wallace for life, effectively ending his long quest for national office, as well as Bremer’s own quest for infamy as one of the century’s great assassins.

I remember all too well the political violence and serial assassinations of the 60’s and 70’s. I know as a caregiver what a bullet can do to a human being — George Wallace, Larry Flynt, countless crime victims and military veterans. I am sure Senator McCain knows this too.

So let’s see the Senator go to his base in Alabama and repudiate George Wallace.

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5 responses

  1. I Dare the Maverick…

    Comparing the tone of Palin/McCain’s rallies to George Wallace is outrageous, say McCain’s people. So let’s hear McCain repudiate Wallace and his racist tactics to a Southern audience. I’m waiting……

  2. Nancy-this is a very interesting post.I think Wallace was a tragic figure to some extent because he went against his better nature for the sake of expediency with horrible results.
    Patterson was just a nasty racist Klan asskisser.
    Wallace didn’t have to go that route.
    “Big Jim” Folsom,a previous Alabama governor,took on the Klan and had nothing to be ashamed of.Throughout the South during the civil rights struggle there were occasionally those public officials who stood up to the racists.I am thinking of Gene Smith,Chief of Police in Little Rock who met the segrgationists with brute force.He was driven to suicide for his stand.
    In Atlanta Chief of Police Jenkins and the mayor,whose names escapes me,made sure that school integration took place with no violence.
    In the Medgar Evers case,the local prosecutor in Mississippi went for first degree murder twice.I saw an interview with a jury member who asserted that the Klan must have infiltrated both juries.Out of 24 white jurors,22 voted for conviction,which makes one more optimistic about human nature,given the time and place.
    I must disagree with you on this-it’s way too far a stretch to associate John McCain and Sarah Palin with the kind of venom I(and apparently you)remember from that difficult era.

  3. I don’t think that violent racism is all in the past. And for every violent racist there are 999 others who will respond to an invitation to bond around skin color against some designated group. The boundaries are changing, like that incident in Providence where two customers were challenged for proof of citizenship at a plumbing supply store. The code words are changing.
    I hold Sarah Palin responsible for stirring up racist passions when her supporters are shouting ‘kill him’. Given our recent history this is a serious threat.

  4. I never said racism was dead,but what I won’t accept is the often heard assertion that only white people canbe racistWhen a creep like Louis Farrakhan demeans an entire group of people,the excuse gets thrown that “a person of color”can’t be racist because they don’t have power.Sure.What nonsense.Anyone who uses race/ethnicity as a basis for running people down is a racist.Period.
    I think there are people who really dislike Obama for reasons unrelated to race.Were the shouts of “kill him”directed at Obama or Bill Ayers?Big difference.

  5. For what it’s worth the Secret Service has been unable to confirm the “kill him” comment which they investigated.None of their agents on-scene heard it and non-agent witnesses likewise.Only a reporter named Singleton seems to have heard it said.It wouldn’t be the first unfounded allegation in this campaign.
    By the way,do you hold Obama responsible for Jesse Jackson’s claim that an Obama administration would end the “Zionist control”of America’s foreign policy?”Zionist” is the new way of saying “kike”.Don’t try making distinctions to me about Zionists vs.Jews because I know what people mean when they use it-they are referring to Jews in general.Since my parents were Jewish,that means me,and I don’t recall being asked my views on foreign policy by the government.Jesse Jackson is a Jew hater and always has been.I don’t give anyone a pass on that.I don’t mind if someone hates me,but it should be for something I personally did to them.

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