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Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    George LeMaistre entered the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa in 1930, shortly after the stock market crash of 1929. Three years later, he tried to set up a practice in a tough economic environment and soon found himself teaching law, then joining naval intelligence. He worked out of Louisiana as part of a relatively disorganized defense effort until the end of the war, when he returned to teaching in Tuscaloosa. He continued to teach law even as he moved into a banking career, eventually becoming the chairman of the F.D.I.C. LeMaistre died in 1994.

    In this interview, LeMaistre recalls his experiences in World War II, including the Navy's efforts to combat extensive torpedo submarine activity in the Gulf of Mexico. He describes some of the personal relationships and minutiae of Alabama politics, including the roles of politicos like Foots Clement, Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman, and Governors Bibb Graves and Frank Dixon, among others. He dwells on the career of George Wallace, describing the gubernatorial primary loss that convinced Wallace to use racist appeals and Wallace's efforts to exploit the integration struggle for political gain. LeMaistre also considers at length the role of race and civil rights in Alabama politics and describes integration at the University of Alabama.

    LeMaistre believes that racism remained beneath the surface in Alabama until the mid-1960s. Until then, southern politicians dragged their feet on civil rights, but rarely exploited racial antagonisms to win votes, or spoke openly about opposing legislation for racial reasons. Of course, by the mid-1960s, as the civil rights movement was escalating, Alabama was experiencing spasms of deadly violence. LeMaistre positions himself as an observer, only inserting himself into the story when he describes his contributions to efforts to craft a nonviolent integration strategy in Alabama. This interview offers a detailed and thorough account of the story of race and politics in that state in the civil rights era.

    Excerpts
  • Losing savings following the stock market crash of 1929
  • Poorly organized naval defense in New Orleans
  • WWII submarine attacks near New Orleans
  • Using human intelligence to combat submarine attacks in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Brutal weather in the North Atlantic during WWII
  • V-E Day in New Orleans
  • Alabama politicians strategize at the Spanish Inn
  • Alabama politicians benefit from the New Deal
  • University of Alabama School of Law did not turn on alumnus Hugo Black after Brown
  • Alabamans support the New Deal until it becomes synonymous with civil rights
  • The Scottsboro case
  • Alabama politicians benefit from the New Deal
  • Evaluating Alabama governor Frank Dixon
  • Foots Clement urges southerners to stick with the Democratic Party
  • White southern politicians avoid, rather than push back against, civil rights
  • Racism remains a dormant political issue in the South until the 1960s
  • Evaluating Truman's 1948 presidential candidacy
  • Civil rights divide the Democratic Party in the South
  • Southern Democrats migrate to Eisenhower's Republican Party in the early 1950s
  • Evaluating Alabama Governors Folsom and Persons
  • Moderation slowly gives way to riots in integrating Alabama
  • Alabamans resent being told what to do more than desegration itself
  • Various politicians react to the integration issue
  • Violence increases as whites and blacks clash in the early 1960s
  • George Wallace exploits opposition to integration
  • Race remains a minor issue in a 1962 senatorial contest
  • Maneuvering through the desegregation of the University of Alabama
  • Most white Alabamans are not vicious racists
  • Growing black radicalism in the mid-1960s
  • An imposing civil rights figure cows a potential lynching party
  • George Wallace moves away from race-baiting in 1970
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Resources for Educators
  • Changes in Southern Politics Learning Object
  • Subjects
  • Alabama--Politics and government
  • Democratic Party (Ala.)
  • Civil rights--Alabama
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.