After leaving the White House, President Johnson said: “I don’t believe you would have had any Wilkinses, Thomases, or Eatons [the murderers of Viola Liuzzo] if you didn’t have leadership that gave them that idea that they could do what they did with immunity.”
Many white Alabamans had made their peace with integration and a new kind of South, but George Wallace was not one of them. In 1970 he had won election as governor for a second time applying an overtly racist strategy an aide described privately as “promise them the moon and holler nigger.”
As Wallace campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination for a third time in 1972, he continued to deny that he was a racist. The governor blamed the press that “got folks believing now that I’m against certain people just because of who they happen to be.” Out on the campaign trail, he was on his best behavior, but sometimes things would just creep out, as when he referred to United States senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass.) as a “nigger.”
Wallace had risen to power on racial issues, and wherever he spoke on his presidential campaigns, his audiences were full of people who feared or mistrusted black people. Now in the last years of his political career, he played the race card again, but in a different way.
Thanks largely to the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Wallace had fought against, black Alabamans had won the right to vote, and the day was coming when it would be impossible for a Democrat to win an election without their support. The governor had not even wanted black Alabamans to attend his first inauguration. Yet now, when he needed them, he went to Tuscaloosa and crowned a black woman the University of Alabama homecoming queen, and he appointed black officials throughout his administration.
In 1974, Wallace won reelection as governor for the third time with 25 percent of the black vote. In his fourth and final gubernatorial campaign in 1982, he received around 35 percent of the black vote in his victory.
Wallace sent out one of his new black appointees, Delores Pickett, to campaign for him among her people. “Forgiveness is in our Christian upbringing,” she told her black audiences. “It’s something that Martin Luther King taught us.”
Black Alabamans were for the most part churchgoing people who were taught that redemption comes from forgiveness. They wanted to believe the governor had changed, and if he of all people had changed, then the world had changed.
As he sat in his wheelchair filled with pain, Wallace said he had found Jesus. But that faith never led him to face up publically to his long-held beliefs. He claimed his actions were driven by a belief in states’ rights and that he had never felt prejudice toward black people. He might have taken the lynching of Michael Donald and the conviction of the two murderers as a moment to talk about the wrongfulness of so much he had said and how words led to deeds, but he remained silent.
Despite the limitations of his public apologies, in private Wallace was beginning to grasp that he shared moral responsibility for so many reprehensible acts. One evening during his final full year in office in 1986, one of his aides, Kenneth Mullinax, was over at the governor’s mansion. Cigar smoke wafted down from an upstairs bedroom, and Mullinax went up to chat with Wallace.
“I have a lot of regrets,” Wallace said, “and I really worry about my soul.”
“But you’re born again, Governor,” Mullinax said.
“I flew all them runs over Tokyo dropping bombs, but that don’t worry me none. It’s my words. They kilt a lot of people. That’s why I’m worried I’m going to hell.”
Wallace had spoken the most provocative rhetoric. Then he had stood back and taken no responsibility for what his words led people to do. Now after all these years, he had come to an understanding of what power he truly had possessed, how profound his impact had been, and how tragic the results.
This was taken from THE LYNCHING…THE EPIC COURTROOM BATTLE THAT BROUGHT DOWN THE KLAN by Laurence Leamer
…trump…wallace, all over again.