• U.S.

Confessions of A Former Segregationist: GEORGE WALLACE

9 minute read
Michael Riley/Montgomery and George Wallace

Q. You were elected Governor of Alabama four times. At your first inauguration in 1963, you uttered your most memorable lines: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Why did you say that?

A. That’s the reason I hate to give people interviews that ask about all that stuff. It happened a quarter-century ago. My vehemence was against the federal courts. I never said a word against black people in my heart since I ran for Governor.

Look at that. ((Wallace pulls from his desk drawer an honorary doctor of laws degree given to him by Tuskegee University, founded as an elementary and secondary school for blacks in 1881.)) Do you have one of those?

Q. No, I don’t.

A. That right there ought to answer a lot of questions about my attitude. Now, I shouldn’t have said those words. It was really aimed at the federal judges. People were mad with the federal courts, and I never said anything against black people, because they voted for me the last two times. Every Governor who ran in 1962 had to face the race question, or they would have been defeated.

Jimmy Carter told me if he had run when I ran and I’d run when he ran, I might have been the vice-presidential nominee, but he never would have been the presidential nominee, because he would have had to face that question ((about segregation)). These New South Governors all were elected after the race question was settled, and they didn’t have to face it. But if they had run when I ran and had had to face it, they wouldn’t have been elected. Our platform was simply this: I will do all I can to maintain segregation within the law without violence.

Q. Do you think that stand hurt black people?

A. No. I didn’t hurt black people. In fact, I helped black people. I appointed three times more blacks than any other Governor.

You see, if I had ever said anything in the race for Governor that reflected on black people other than being for the segregation of the school system, they would never have voted for me.

Some of the Governors used to say they were inferior in mind and all that kind of stuff. If I had ever said anything like that, no decent black person would have ever voted for me, and I wouldn’t blame them, because all those things aren’t true.

Q. Was it wrong to support segregation?

A. Didn’t you know back then that people thought it was in the best interest of both races? They were all raised that way for 150, 200 years, and I believed it was in the best interest too.

Q. So how has your view on race changed?

A. It never changed about how I liked black people and got along with them. But I realized after about two years as Governor that segregation wouldn’t work because blacks are more educated and more motivated. Either we had to do away with segregation or we wouldn’t have any peace in this country.

Q. You ran for President four times, including in 1968, when you ran as a third-party candidate and captured nearly 14% of the vote. Why were you so successful back then?

A. Well, I didn’t talk about race. That wasn’t an issue. I don’t think I even mentioned it, except I would like to have had anybody, regardless of their race or color or creed, vote for me. I didn’t even mention race. I did say I was against busing but so did the other candidates.

In the 1976 Democratic primary, I carried Boston. I carried Beacon Hill. I don’t think you’d say that was because they hated blacks. I didn’t mention anything except busing up there.

Q. But wasn’t busing a code word for race?

A. No. A lot of blacks were against busing right here in Alabama. In fact, if it was a code word, every one of them that ran in 1976 was against busing. I wasn’t the only one against busing.

But the race question is over, and I don’t see a need to keep talking about it, frankly.

Q. David Duke’s message of race hatred has struck a raw nerve in this country, and that has prompted comparisons with your campaigns for the White House two decades ago. What do you think of his message?

A. People who belong to the Klan usually have hated blacks. I never did that. I grew up among them. They are some of my family’s best friends. I wouldn’t be for a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, especially a man who thought Hitler was a great man, because I was in World War II. I didn’t run my campaign on hate. I ran on cussing the federal courts out about trying to run everything themselves instead of letting local states run their own democratic institutions.

Q. Is Duke a threat to this country?

A. I don’t talk about him much. ((He crumples and tosses the written question aside.))

Q. From quotas to welfare to Willie Horton, race still plays a big role in presidential politics. What can be done to change that?

A. Well, I don’t know what would change it. We ought not to have racial politics because all the citizens of this country are citizens, and there ought not to be any race involved in the presidential election, frankly.

Q. Let me ask you one last question on race. Do you regret the pain you have caused black people?

A. I haven’t caused any pain to black people. What pain have I caused them? I brought them into state government.

Q. Some of them still regard you as a menace.

A. Blacks in other states don’t know me like the blacks in Alabama do.

Q. What is your analysis of the presidential race so far?

A. I haven’t thought much about it because I have to concentrate on this job here. ((Wallace is a fund raiser for Troy State University in Montgomery.)) And I’m in a lot of pain all the time. I wasn’t in much pain when I was Governor, because I was younger and stronger. I’m older and weaker now. I just got over a bad kidney infection.

And I finally got rid of it. That’s what we die with, kidney failure. So if another big bug hits me again like that, it may be the last of me.

Q. If you were running for President today, what message would you send the American people?

A. We are so enmeshed in deficits that I don’t know what I would tell them. We’ve got to the point where we owe so much money, and we have lowered the taxes on the wealthy to 28%, but we haven’t done anything for the middle class. It is hard to know what to tell them now, but I wish we could get a fine health-care system, especially for those who are uninsured. And we ought not let the Japanese treat us like they have treated us, because we helped build back their country.

Q. Do you think that your name will be rehabilitated?

A. I can’t help that, because the main thing when you die is what happens to your soul. I’m a born-again Christian. I love everybody; I don’t hate anybody. I even pray to the Heavenly Father for the fellow that shot me to ask forgiveness of his sins, because I have forgiven him. (During his 1972 presidential bid, Wallace was shot by Arthur Bremer, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.) I don’t feel bitter toward him. I would have wasted myself away if I had been hating all these years. I don’t hate him at all.

Lyndon Johnson was a segregationist. He also led filibusters against civil rights bills, but later on he got them passed. So I have been in the same position that he has been in. He’s been rehabilitated, so I should be also. In the long run, it doesn’t make all that much difference, because I know that I love every citizen of Alabama, black and white.

Q. What do you see as your lasting legacy in race relations?

A. I just know they improved in my state under me. ((Wallace then calls Eddie Holcey , a longtime aide, who is black, from an adjoining office.)) We love each other too, don’t we, Eddie? You know, I don’t even want to come to the office without him. Isn’t that right? We’ve been to funerals together. We went to a funeral not too long ago, didn’t we? He knows I don’t hate black folks.

Eddie Holcey: You don’t hate me.

A. He voted for me too. His wife did too. We have been good close friends, and when I die he is going to be one of my pallbearers.

Q. Would you have done anything differently, looking back on it all?

A. Anybody that’s been in public life as long as I have would do different things, yes. There are things that I could do different, but I can’t think of all of them now. But every President and every other person would do some things different if they had to go over it again.

Q. How do you think history will remember you?

A. I don’t know what they will say. I just know that I pray I will be in God’s heavenly kingdom when that time comes, so I don’t worry about what anybody thinks when I leave this world, which won’t be long.

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