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We’re All Southerners


I finished Harvey Jackson’s Inside Alabama: A Personal History of My State yesterday. I wrote about it a week ago and followed up a couple of days later with a post quoting some passages about Dixon Hall Lewis, an Alabama state legislator, congressman, and senator in the 1820s-1840s.

Here, before I set the book aside, I would like to quote one more passage. We jump to the 1960s and perhaps the most famous of all Alabama politicians, George Wallace. What made Wallace so popular in Alabama anyway? And, ultimately, in the country?

Jackson devotes much of the latter part of the book to an explanation, with an illuminating passage that I quote (the essential portion of which is evidently due to Douglas Kiker). Jackson is discussing the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery—the state capitol—led by Martin Luther King. He writes:

One can even imagine Wallace, looking out at the sea of faces stretching down Dexter Avenue, and not really seeing them. One can imagine his mind drifting off to his upcoming trip to New York and appearance on the Today show. Or maybe thinking about all those letters piling up in the mail room, letters from around the nation praising his stand against the subversive forces that were surely behind the march and the movement. Or maybe he was recalling his reception in the North when he made a tentative run for the presidency the year before. And one can imagine, as journalist Douglas Kiker imagined, after the governor’s warm greeting up there, how he lay asleep and was “awakened by a white, blinding vision” that explained why so many Yankees wanted to be his friend. “They all hate black people,” the vision revealed. “All of them. They’re all afraid, all of them.” And that is when it came to Wallace. “Great God! That’s it. They’re all Southern! The whole United States is Southern!”

Realizing this, Wallace also realized, or believed, or at least hoped, that he could become president of that United States, a nation of southerners, so he took to running.

Three years later, Wallace would win 13.5% of the popular vote, 5 states, and 46 electoral votes. Perhaps greater success would have followed if not for the attempt on his life in 1972.

Categories: Books, History, Politics
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