A Brief History
On June 11, 1963, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama stood in the doorway to the University of Alabama in a vain attempt to block four newly admitted African-American students from entering the school. Wallace had ascended to the governorship on promises of fighting Civil Rights for African-Americans, most especially against Federal efforts to end racial segregation.
Today, with throngs of Alabama football fans heartily cheering Black athletes and with a mixed race man in the White House, it is hard to remember such a day when a state governor could physically try to block African-Americans from going to a state run college. If you were not alive then, you must understand things were quite different from today!
Wallace was sworn in as governor of Alabama on the exact spot that Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America. In Wallace’s inaugural speech he promised, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” After 4 years in office fighting fiercely against Civil Rights for African-Americans, Wallace’s wife succeeded him as governor! And then Wallace became governor again in 1971 (for 8 more years) and was again elected to the governorship in 1983. It seems being a blatant racist was no reason to disqualify him from being governor in the 1960’s through the 1980’s. If you are too young to remember this, just think about it!
Wallace had hardened his racial/political views when he lost the 1958 primary for governor to a man that spouted a harder racial policy than Wallace. Wallace explained that he had been “outniggered” by his opponent and vowed “I will never be outniggered again!”
Since Wallace died in 1998 we have seen a dramatic increase in African-American participation in American politics, business, and sports management. It is reasonable to assume George Wallace would be shocked to find Barrack Obama was elected as the nation’s President twice. High cabinet officials (such as Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Surgeon General) have been held by African-Americans, our military has had Black leaders, and starting in the 1990’s we have had the first Black governors since Reconstruction.
These changes started before Wallace died, but have certainly come a long way since. Major cities routinely elect African-American mayors and many have African-American police chiefs. Still, today we are experiencing a return to the days where attempts are being made to disenfranchise African-American voters by various schemes meant to reduce Black voter turnout. These are not insignificant efforts, as falsely turning away Black voters in Florida may have cost Al Gore the 2000 Presidential election.
The United States is becoming brown, with the percentage of non-white or non-Caucasian residents rising rapidly. The Brookings Institute and others estimate the US will become a “majority minority” country in less than 30 years, with Caucasians no longer holding the majority. It Is only a matter of time for Alabama to elect their first African-American governor, as the words “Segregation forever” ring hollow.
Question for students (and subscribers): Is segregation ever justifiable? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Colby, Tanner. Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America. Penguin Books, 2013.