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J.L. Chestnut, Civil Rights activist, on
the election of 1958

J.L. Chestnut Q:If Wallace had won in 1958, would that have changed everything?

A: Had George Wallace defeated John Patterson in 1958, the first time he ran, I have no doubt in my mind this would have changed everything. Wallace then would have not felt any necessity to go out and exploit race to the extent he did. And his natural inclinations would have come to play -- and these were the populist type issues -- for the underdog, against the big mules, as he used to call them. He was, in a sense, somewhat like his mentor, Big Jim Folsom, who was, as they put it, for the common people. And George Wallace would have pursued something of a role that was pursued in North Carolina and other states. Wallace would have been trying to bring in industry and that sort of thing, and he had the skills to do that. The great tragedy of George Wallace is that here's a man of great talents, great skill, great charm, great everything, but it was all focused in the wrong direction -- in the pursuit of power for the wrong reasons. Had he brought these prodigious skills to bear on things constructive, this state would have been thirty years ahead of itself. That's the great tragedy of George Wallace.

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