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J.L. Chestnut, Civil Rights activist, on
blacks voting for Wallace

J.L. Chestnut Q:Did black folks, who were newly registered to vote, did they feel differently about Lurleen?

A: My dear mother, who's still living now, who's about 87 years old, taught school in Selma, Alabama for forty years. And she had announced that she was going to vote for the Wallaces, as she put it. And I said, "You must be out of your mind. You can't do that to me. I'm known as one of the leading civil rights lawyers in the South. How can my mother be voting for George Wallace?" And she said, "Look. George Wallace has built trade schools all over this state. George Wallace has raised the salaries of teachers three times in a row." That had never happened in her lifetime. She said, "Look. We have free textbooks in the schools. And look at the cad who's running against George Wallace." She says, "I don't care what my son is, I'm voting for George Wallace." And she did. And a number of blacks voted for George Wallace, but as a lesser of two evils. I don't think that blacks were under any illusion that George Wallace had turned to be some great liberal and all that. But, once again, George Wallace had this populist streak in him. And it came out in many, many ways.

I think even then Wallace had done some things which appealed to blacks. And you have to judge it in context. Who were they running against and what were other people saying, and what was Wallace saying in all of that? I don't think it's extraordinary that blacks were supporting Wallace to some extent. I remember Wallace coming to a meeting with us the last time he ran for Governor. And this black fellow rolled him in a wheelchair and Wallace was saying that when he came to Montgomery, there were no blacks in any office over there. And he laughed and said, "Now it looks like Uncle Tom's Cabin." And he said that he was responsible for that. And I said, "No you weren't responsible for that. You did it because we had the federal courts and the federal boot aimed at you." And he said, "Well, in any way it's done now." And he said he was proud that it had occurred. And he had this easy way with him with black folk. And there were black people in that room who knew that what I was saying was correct, but they nevertheless felt close to Wallace because it happened on his watch, so to speak, and all of that. And he knew how to exploit that. Wallace was an effective politician with black folk, white folk, and everybody else.

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