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Dan Carter, author, on
Alabama politics in 1930-1940

Dan Carter Q:Talk about the politics at this time.

A: In some ways, Barbour County, Alabama, is a cross-section of Alabama in the deep South, in that within this one county you've got the plantation economy on the town of Eufala, over near the Eufala River, you've got the sort of middling, yeoman farmers further away from the river, and then you've got poor whites in the area where George Wallace grew up: Clio. This is the center, although there are Blacks living there, they're fewer. It's yeoman farmers, they make it up. And it's no accident that in the 1890s this was the center of populism in the Black Belt. In fact, Clio, Alabama, where George Wallace grew up, that section of the county voted the populist three to one.

With the disfranchisement of Blacks, you also had a drop-off in white political participation as well. But under the pressure of the 1920s, and the poverty of the 1920s, you begin to get not only an increase in the white electorate, because Blacks were still disenfranchised, but you began to get an increase in a kind of angry electorate. For the first time, there's a kind of, almost a revolution of rising expectations. White farmers, white voters -- particularly working class poor farmers -- suddenly begin to expect something for the first time. They expected it of the national government and in part of the New Deal offered that. And you begin to get some politicians who say, the purpose of government is not simply to be the most efficient, but to actually do something for you. And that starts in the 1930s. But of course, it's Big Jim Folsom who really lays out this new agenda, a kind of modern populism, in which he says the purpose of the state is to help those who need help -- in a sense, the worthy, working poor. And in the 1930s, 1940s, this kind of revolution of expectations takes place, and in part, it's driven by anger and frustration and even envy, I think, on the part of many white Alabamians. But it's politics, at least in the thirties and forties, which is primarily focused against elites, against the big mules in Birmingham, against the old planter elites of the Black Belt. And it creates some of the liveliest politics in the deep South in the 1930s and the 1940s. And it's in that background that George Wallace comes to maturity in the 1930s and 1940s.

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