African American attorney J. L. Chestnut remembers George C. Wallace as "the most liberal judge that I had ever practiced law in front of" and as a Southern judge with moderate -- some even said liberal -- views of segregation and race relations. This is not the George Wallace that most Americans remember. He gained national notice as "the foremost person to preserve the Southern way of life," and as a hard-line segregationist who believed fiercely in states’ rights. The following quotes, culled from speeches and interviews given over his four decades in the public eye, reflect the dramatic changes he underwent during his political career.
1958 (from the first gubernatorial campaign)
"During the next four years, many problems will arise in the matter of segregation and civil rights, as a result of judicial decisions. Having served as judge of the third judicial circuit of Alabama, I feel, my friends, that this judicial experience, will be invaluable to me as your governor.… And I want to tell the good people of this state, as a judge of the third judicial circuit, if I didn’t have what it took to treat a man fair, regardless of his color, then I don’t have what it takes to be the governor of your great state."
"I advocate hatred of no man, because hate will only compound the problems facing the South."
1958 (said in private to Seymore Trammell, Wallace's finance director, following his unsuccessful first run for governor against John Patterson)
"I was out-niggered, and I will never be out-niggered again."
1959 (proclaiming his new hard-line segregationist views)
"There’s some people who’ve gone over the state and said, ‘Well, George Wallace has talked too strong about segregation.’ Now let me ask you this: how in the name of common sense can you be too strong about it? You’re either for it or you’re against it. There’s not any middle ground as I know of."
1962 (from a campaign speech on federally mandated integration)
"As your governor, I shall resist any illegal federal court order, even to the point of standing at the schoolhouse door in person, if necessary."
1963 (from his inaugural speech, first term as governor)
"It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
1963 (at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa, during his stand to bar integration)
"The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted, and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the central government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this state by officers of the federal government."
1963 (addressing race issues through "code words")
"This civil rights bill will wind up putting a homeowner in jail because he doesn’t sell his home to someone that some bureaucrat thinks he ought to sell it to. My friends, a man’s home is his castle…and he ought to be able to sell it to people with blue eyes and green teeth if he wants to; it’s his home."
1964 (from "U.S. News & World Report")
"A racist is one who despises someone because of his color, and an Alabama segregationist is one who conscientiously believes that it is in the best interest of Negro and white to have a separate education and social order."
1966 (from "New York Times Magazine")
"I am an Alabama Democrat, not a national Democrat. I’m not kin to those folks. The difference between a national Democrat and an Alabama Democrat is like the difference between a Communist and a non-Communist."
May 1964 (speaking to an audience at Johns Hopkins)
"Nobody in Alabama gets anywhere if he slants an election campaign to the racial issue."
1964 (from the presidential primary campaign, while in Indianapolis)
"Integration is a matter to be decided by each state. The states must determine if they feel it is of benefit to both races."
1966 (moving the focus from race to other threats)
"We’ll use the power and prestige of the governor’s office to try to awaken the American people to the trends that are rampant in our country, a trend that says we must fight the Communists in Vietnam while at the same time the Communist-controlled beatnik mobs in the streets influence national affairs in Washington, D.C."
"I have never made a derogatory remark about one of God’s children and I never will. If I am elected, I am going to treat all fairly."
1968 (while running as a third-party candidate)
"And it is a sad day in our country that you cannot walk even in your neighborhoods at night or even in the daytime because both national parties, in the last number of years, have kowtowed to every group of anarchists that have roamed the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles and throughout the country. And now they have created themselves a Frankenstein monster, and the chickens are coming home to roost all over this country." "Yes, they’ve looked down their nose at you and me a long time. They’ve called us rednecks -- the Republicans and the Democrats. Well, we’re going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country."
1970 (back to race as an overt issue)
"There’s no reason to let any one group call all the shots in this state. And you know the militant black bloc vote in this state, if they take over, it’s going to control politics for the next 50 years in Alabama, and I know you are not going to let that happen."
1971 (from his inaugural speech)
"Our state government is for all -- so let us join together, for Alabama belongs to all of us -- black and white, young and old, rich and poor alike."
1972 (shortly before assassination attempt, told to the "Detroit News")
"Somebody’s going to get killed before this primary is over, and I hope it’s not me."
1976 (the presidential campaign; back to big government as focus)
"We haven’t been against people. We’ve been against big government trying to take over and write a guideline for you and tell you how to cross the street, what to do with your union and your business when you know how to do it yourself."
1982 (addressing black congregation, beginning his steps toward seeking forgiveness)
"And whether or not you’ve agreed with me at everything that I used to do, and agreed to -- I know that you do not -- I, too, see the mistakes that all of us made in years past."
1982 (to a Birmingham meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference)
"I did stand, with a majority of the white people, for the separation of the schools. But that was wrong, and that will never come back again."
1986 (on retiring; focus on personal changes)
"I feel that I must say that I’ve climbed my last political mountain. But there’s still some personal hills that I must climb. But for now, I must pass the rope and the pick to another climber and say, ‘Climb on. Climb on to higher heights. Climb on till you reach the very peak.’ Then look back and wave at me, for I, too, will still be climbing."
Late ’80s (on how he would like to be remembered, to the "Birmingham News")
"I would like to be remembered as one who opened up equal opportunity for all people…"
Late ’80s (to Stephan Lesher)
"I don’t expect people to forget my brash words or deeds. But I ask that they try to remember the actions that I took that were designed to help them."
Shortly before his death
"I don’t hate blacks. The day I said ‘segregation forever,’ I never said a thing that would upset a black person unless it was segregation. I never made fun of ‘em about inequality and all that kind of stuff. But my vehemence was against the federal government folks. I didn’t make people get mad against black people. I made ‘em get mad against the courts."