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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 >>

Various reflections on race, poverty, and compassion

While Wallace says that being shot made him more compassionate, he was "never anti-anybody." He concedes that African Americans face more economic difficulties than other Americans, though he insists the entire region suffered from the restrictions imposed by the North after the "war between the states."

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

JACK BASS:
I wanted to ask you this question. Some people have said that you, having undergone an experience very, very few people go through, and have survived it and have overcome a great deal of adversity, that that has resulted in some change in your own outlook, particularly on racial matters.
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Well, I don't know where people. . . . I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist and all of that. So it's hard for me to tell what's on your subconscious mind or my subconscious mind. My conscious mind . . . I never have been, prior to being shot, anti-anybody. In fact I was raised in the religious atmosphere. And even though I admit that when I was a youth the attitude toward certain people was paternalistic because they needed help. Lack of education and so forth. They needed help. Of course now we have the GOV.ernment trying to be paternalistic to everybody. I don't know which is better. But there never was any. . . . And I can understand how people today would reject the paternalism. It's not needed any more because of the advent of educational opportunities for people of all races and the economic upsurge in the South that's brought about opportunities for more than a few. But I wasn't raised that way. I was raised with black and white people living and playing together, close to one another. We had a different social order, no question about that. But it wasn't hypocritical. It was honest. That's the least you can say about us. It was honest. It wasn't dishonest, like it is in Washington today, where they all get up and spout off and then send their children over to an exclusive private school in Montgomery county, Maryland. That's where all the liberals live, in Montgomery county, Maryland. But they all unknown Washington, you know. They're all bureaucrats. So they live in Washington, you know. And the blacks understand that, too. They've caught on to that. You've heard them say that. But . . . when the free text book program went through. . . . I pushed for that and there was opposition to that. One of the newspapermen in the country, I forgot . . . sat right where you are. "That'll help the blacks." I said "Well, that's the purpose of it." Drop out among them is high, lack of school books. And we're going to provide a free school book program. I do know that when you get shot and face death and almost die that you do understand the frailty of human life. And it makes you more compassionate toward those who suffer. And you understand now, today, better than I did before what a fellow goes through when he's short of money and he's a parapalegic or quadraplegic or when he's a tuberculor. When he's crippled and when he can't get a job. So I've started some programs. I started a program quietly in 1973 in the legislature for teams to go out and teach people how to look after folks in my shape. You know, because they've been sort of neglected because there's so few of them, comparatively speaking. But black ministers prayed for me in Alabama just like white ministers prayed for me. And they were upset, too, about my being shot. And I appreciate that very much because I probably got as many prayers from black churches as white churches. And I won't say that that changed my attitude, because my attitude never was anti. Because that's contrary to my religious upbringing. But I suppose that I can better sympathize with the plight of anybody that happens to be unfortunate better than I used to. I used to see a man in a wheel chair. I knew he suffered, but I didn't know . . . I just knew it abstractly, you know. In my mind. But I didn't feel it.
JACK BASS:
Collectively, do you think blacks have suffered more in Alabama and any place elsewhere in the South?
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
Than any place elsewhere in the South?
JACK BASS:
No, in Alabama and elsewhere in the South. Do you think blacks have suffered more?
GOV. GEORGE WALLACE:
I think the mass of people in the South all suffered because of the restrictions and everything placed upon our economy after the war between the states. And it was white and black who were poor and it was southern politicians who led the fight to remove the restrictions that opened up the gateway to industry that provided the jobs for the employment, as opposed by some of the politicians in other regions. Not the people in other regions. Because it turns out when one region is weak it weakens the other regions. And when all regions are economically stable and strong then all regions are better off. But yes, the black people, naturally, all over the country have had a tougher time economically in the whole nation. Everybody knows that. But that is one of the things that we're trying to do at all levels of GOV.ernment. Maybe we disagreed with some of the legislation in Washington about how they went about it, but we all wanted to see the plight of the black man bettered in this state. And I think . . . you talk to black folks in Alabama. You've been other places. They feel like that we are trying to do that in Alabama.