Wallace and school desegregation in the 1970s
In 1969, the Alabama courts ruled that Mobile's public schools had to desegregate, so George Wallace went to Prichard, Alabama, a small town just outside Mobile, and urged the parents to take their children out of school in protest. That action caused great turmoil and affected the way the desegregation of Mobile's schools proceeded.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. 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
the courts announced
during the summer that Mobile schools would be completely integrated.
Announced . . . re-establishing the district lines. And the courts had
come up with a plan. Released it, I think, in middle August. As to where
the children would go. And there was a lot of busing of white children
to black schools and blacks, mostly blacks to white schools. But Wallace
made a speech in Pritchard, which is a blue collar
area. You're probably familiar . . . Jay Cooper is now mayor out there.
An interesting thing. But this had always been . . . prior to the last
few years, had been the hard core area of Wallace support in this area.
As much as any area of the state. And Wallace had said we're going to
block the federal courts, we're going to take our children and put them
. . . . Take your children to the school that you want them to go to.
I'm governor and it's all right for you to do this. And the legislature
has one more day to meet. A few days after Labor Day. "And I am
going to introduce a resolution . . . I have a resolution introduced,
calling for people to take their children to the school of their choice
regardless what the court decisions might be. And I'll back them up. And
we're going to find out who the men are in the legislature and who the
boys are." It was a pretty clear cut issue. The resolution was
introduced, ironically by Sage Lyons, the fellow who had been elected
with me in that special election. We had been in law school together and
close friends. I was the only one in the house to speak against it. Very
simple. I'm not in favor of busing, I'm just in favor of law and order.
I felt the governor was wrong, that it was ill advised of the
legislatureto recommend to their constituents
that they place themselves in contempt of court and to further harden
already very difficult emotional situation. No good could come of it.
And there were four other people who voted with me. Five of us. I was
the only one in this county. So . . . I was told at the time I would
never be reelected if I spoke against it. It was a hard fight, yet it
shows how much feeling has changed here that a person . . . . I would
think three or four years before I would not have been able to be
re-elected. This was the issue and probably the key issue when I ran a
year later for re-election. My opponent was picked
to run against me, probably one of the stronger of the new young faces
coming along. He ran on the ticket of get Wallace a person he can work
with, who can work with him, somebody's who's not afraid to speak up and
stand up for your children. This sort of thing. Never will forget though
. . . . Ever could get a tape of this it would be something that people
should remember. Always get a little emotional when I think back on
those times. There was a film on channel 10 here, the NBC affiliate, of
, who's a young tv news reporter who was covering the school
desegregation and enrolling of the students right after that, those few
days. Wallace's speech, firey speech out at Pritchard, telling the
parents to go to school was all right. He was telling them to do this.
Could take the children to the school they wanted to go to, regardless
of what district they'd been placed in, been assigned, under the court
order. And there was a scene a week later, Rene Bradmer stopping this
lady who was running out . . . white lady, middle aged, I'd say blue
collar lady, not well educated but very emotional, upset, crying,
visibly crying there on the television. Bradmer stopped her, grabbed
her, asked "Ma'am, what's wrong?" And she looked
straight in to the camera and said "The governor lied to
me." "What do you mean?" "Governor
Wallace lied to me. I was at Pritchard last week and he said I could
take my child to any school that I wanted to. And I can't."
Broke down crying. She had a child she was taking home. But this was the
type of thing that had been . . . there were many scenes like this
because of Wallace's involvement. And of course all it did was harden
the situation. Luckily, Mobile learned from that situation and a year
later we had a . . . there was a further court order that was so harsh .
. . . It called for triple pairing of schools. It
was a 5th circuit order, overruling some local judges. The community . .
. the black and white community leaders sat down and worked it out and
got very good support from the local school board. In '71 they worked
out a three year moratorium. They worked out a plan essentially, I think
some people referred to it at one time as the national plan. One way
busing. Whites being bused to white schools and there are blacks being
bused. But there are no all white schools of any consequence in the
county. There are a number of all black schools, in black areas. But the
flight, the white flight to private schools had been so great . . . and
the lack of public support of the public school system was building at
such a rate, that the black leadership decided they had to save the
public school system. We worked out a plan that has been implemented and
it's worked out quite well. I shouldn't have gone with that. Mobile,
though, is coming along. It's changed so much in the 15 years that I've
been here. Well, the whole South has. The race situation.