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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howell Heflin, July 9, 1974. Interview A-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Race as a powerful electoral issue in the South

Race is still an issue in Alabama politics, Heflin believes, although it has been disguised behind a veil of code words. Nevertheless, organized black voters have forced Alabamian politicians to respond to their needs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howell Heflin, July 9, 1974. Interview A-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
Is the politics of race gone in Alabama?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
I don't think so. I think it's still in many of the people's minds and their thoughts in their selection. I don't think it's gone. I think it's still an issue with a lot of people.
JACK BASS:
Can a segregationist candidate, excluding George Wallace. . . anyone other than George Wallace who this time did not run as a segregationist candidate. But can a segregationist candidate still get elected in Alabama in a state wide race?
WALTER DE VRIES:
Running on it as an open issue?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
As an open issue I doubt it. That again. . . .
JACK BASS:
Open issue. It's a code word you're talking about.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Right, using code words, not. . . .
HOWELL HEFLIN:
Yeah. . . . The issue would be. . . they could but the catch would be in a similar situation where. . . the run-off between Brewer and Wallace. Where there Whether you would use those code words, bloc vote. And in a close race, where there was somebody in a run-off. . . the pattern of using it was that you would wait until the run-off. The man that got the black vote. Then they would take the boxes where there are primarily and predominantly black and they would pass the word, openly or quietly, he voted this in the Smithfield box in Birmingham. What is it, they've got some [unclear] station here in Montgomery that is predominantly a black vote. The local elections still. If that box here in Montgomery goes predominantly for a person and there's a run-off, they will usually by word of mouth pass it. And it has some effect, too. We'd say that if you had a governor's race or if you had had it in this last race, say the lieutenant governor's race in Alabama. If you had that I'm not sure. . . I would not have put it past some that they would have run. I don't know. Maybe it's past and maybe it's not.
JACK BASS:
George Wallace ran in 1970 and in the run-off made a big issue of the bloc vote and the dangers of that [for] Alabama and so forth, in which race was a very open issue, particularly in that run off.
HOWELL HEFLIN:
What year?
JACK BASS:
'70.
HOWELL HEFLIN:
[That was the Brewer race.]
JACK BASS:
And then in '74 he didn't really have strong opposition but he campaigned on being governor of all the people. And we're writing a book on southern politics over the last 25 year period during which George Wallace has been a very central figure. And we're really trying to get some insight and understanding. Has he changed or has he not changed?
HOWELL HEFLIN:
Let me give you something of my own ideas now. I don't know whether you agree with me or not. [Trans. note: there is someone else in the room during this interview and the ‘you’ in this sentence could well be directed toward that person.] The black vote up until this election. . . [has been] fairly well a bloc vote. Behaved. . . they would stick together. Usually coming together from their various organizations over the state to a state meeting and then passing the word [to] black votes. Hasn't always been fully organized. This time, my observation is, that in local counties the local politicians-the white politicians-he had realized that in his local election that he must in effect get black votes. A black vote thatvotes ten or fifteen percent in/any election in many counties. Probate judges, sheriffs, these other things. This is a sizable vote and can mean the difference. So as a result there has been a lot of work done by white politicians with local black politicians. And they have developed, in each county in the state, a lot of cooperation, harmony between some black politicians and white politicians. And as a result, I think this has somewhat weakened a state bloc vote of votes. I think in the lieutenant governor's race I think Beasley ended up getting most of the black vote in the run-off. But it wasn't obtained through a state going down. I think what happened was his supporters in a local county basis were very friendly with black local counties and made themselves that feedback from county to state somewhat resulted in his getting that. Now would you think that's somewhat of a fairly good analogy in that?