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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Wallace, July 15, 1974. Interview A-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern politics are not all about race

Wallace cites civil rights developments—such as the repeal of the poll tax—as among the most important recent political developments in the South, though he says that the political picture of the South includes more than race. He explains his opposition to certain civil rights legislation by saying that he was motivated by concerns about big government rather than racism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Wallace, July 15, 1974. Interview A-0024. 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

WALTER DE VRIES:
You think back to when you came back from World War II. The last 25 years. What are the most major political changes that have occurred in this state since 1946?
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Well . . . you mean in programs or in attitudes?
WALTER DE VRIES:
No, I mean in the politics of the state.
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Well, naturally changes have come. Repeal of the poll tax, naturally, enfranchised many more voters. Naturally more black people voting. There's been more blacks elected to office and there are more blacks in the legislature this time. Which I think is good. I think it's good to have blacks represented in city GOV.ernment, county and state GOV.ernment.
WALTER DE VRIES:
The reason I asked that is . . . the book that I referred to by Key . . . his major hypothesis was that if you understood racial politics in the South you understood southern politics. My question is, do the politics of race still dominate the politics of Alabama or not?
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Does race still dominate?
WALTER DE VRIES:
The politics of race, yes.
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
I don't know that race has dominated politics in what we would call the modern era of Alabama. Now when you get back to the '70s and '80s and '90s, along in there . . . I'm not talking about that. It's so much been misunderstood about our region, when you talk about race. It was like when they talked about religion. You know, the South is anti-Catholic. Yet in 1928 it was only eight states that voted for Al Smith. One of them was Massachusetts, and seven of them were southern states. Including Alabama. So if you go by that hypothesis, if you want to go by that analogue, then California was anti-Catholic and New York was, whereas Alabama was pro. And in 1960 Kennedy carried Alabama. And the only states he lost in the South were those that tilted between Republican and Democrats even in the Eisenhower-Stevenson races. So when you get to talking about race, a lot of things are interpreted as race that really should have been interpreted as big GOV.ernment. I'm not saying there wasn't some racial politics. To say there wasn't some would be not true. But . . .
WALTER DE VRIES:
Has that changed, GOV.ernor?
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Yes.
WALTER DE VRIES:
What racial politics there were—
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Well actually . . . in the modern days . . . when I was in politics, it never was politics. . . . For instance, in the debates on the civil rights bills in Congress during the days that I came up in politics . . . was based purely on constitutional questions and on a high level. Now prior to that time, I don't know. I haven't read the Congressional record, whether or not the debates on those bills were race oriented or not. In some instances, probably yes. But in the modern days when Richard Russell and others led the fight, it was based on constitutional questions. And just like in 1963, my opposition to the take over of the public school system and the University of Alabama was not motivated as much by race as you think, but by big GOV.ernment. Actually the taking over of the Congressional district, redistricting, and legislative districts. That's not racial. That's purely political because I have no objections. I think it's good for blacks to serve in the legislature. But nobody could get elected to office in Alabama during the time that I ran getting up talking against people because of their color. He could get up and be elected talking about the GOV.ernment trying to take over and run everything in your state when the good white and black people of this state ought to make some of the decisions themselves. Now you can call that race if you want to and it probably did have a racial tinge, but for a man to get up and say "I am against people because of this race," you didn't get anywhere in politics in the days that I was coming up in politics.