George Wallace ’68 “Stand Up for America” campaign brochure
The face on the brochure was both familiar and odious. Who could forget the image of the country’s most outspoken and virulent civil rights opponent who vowed that his way of life in mid-20th century Alabama would be forever.
The brochure was a remnant of George Wallace’s presidential campaign of 1968, partially hidden under a group of disparate items on a tray at auction recently. The cover was bathed in the colors of the American flag, meant to represent a segregationist brand of patriotism that Wallace and his followers stood far. The brochure urged voters to “Stand Up for America” by voting for Wallace in the upcoming election.
Wallace was running in the midst of the civil rights movement, when African Americans were fighting for their rights and men like Wallace were working equally as hard to deny them. Riots were erupting in major U.S. cities by blacks weary of poverty and discrimination, protesters were staring down water hoses, dogs, fire bombings and hateful white southerners egged on by people like Wallace and their own beliefs, the Black Panther Party was just getting started and the war in Vietnam was pricking the nation’s consciousness.
“We will continue this movement until our Constitution is restored,” Wallace proclaimed in the brochure. “We shall continue this movement until we have national leadership which does not condone and explain away lawlessness, crime and violence in your streets … We shall continue this movement until we have a nation wherein our states are able to run their affairs, their schools, hospitals and other domestic institutions without federal bureaucratic interference.”
African Americans were never mentioned in the brochure but were inherent in the rhetoric. Wallace also denounced labor unions and college professors who were “advocating victory for the Viet Cong Communists” – American citizens whom he branded “traitors.” He was actually misconstruing the actions of people who were opposed to the war in Vietnam. As for himself, he would ‘impress upon Hanoi and Peking and Moscow the resolve of the American people,” but doesn’t say how he’d do it.
Wallace supported minimum wage in state contracts and condoned violence against protesters: “I’d give my moral support as President to the policemen of this country and to the firemen of this country. I’d say, ‘We stand behind you because you are the thin line between complete anarchy in the streets and the physical safety of our person.'”
George Wallace was born poor as dirt in 1919 in Clio, a spit of a town in southeastern Alabama, much like many other southern children – black or white – of this period. He worked his way through the University of Alabama, according to the brochure, earned his law degree in 1942 and served in the military during World War II. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives at age 27.
He first ran for governor in 1958 as somewhat of a moderate on civil rights – even getting an endorsement from the NAACP – but lost to a staunch segregationist backed by the Ku Klux Klan. Wallace realized that he could not win an election in Alabama unless he preached the same.
In 1962, he was elected governor on a platform aimed at fighting efforts to end segregation, proclaiming in words in his inaugural speech that would forever mark him: “Let us rise to the call of 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 a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” You can listen to portions of the speech here.
And he lived up to his pronouncement, fueling an atmosphere of hatred and fear in Alabama:
June 11, 1963: With armed state troopers, Wallace stood “in the school house door” to bar two black students from registering in the auditorium at the University of Alabama. President Kennedy ordered federalized troops of the Alabama National Guard to the campus and Wallace stepped aside.
September 1963: He defied a federal court order to integrate Alabama schools by sending state police to several cities to keep the schools closed. The schools were eventually desegregated.
Sept. 15, 1963: Four little girls were killed in a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on a Sunday morning. The outrage over the bombing helped set the stage for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and more.
March 7, 1965: State troopers with dogs, whips and tear gas attacked nonviolent civil rights protesters marching across the Edmund Pettis Bridge from Selma to Montgomery. The savage assault dubbed “Bloody Sunday” was televised across the country and mobilized people who had watched from the sidelines.
Wallace was elected governor four times and ran for president just as many. He first ran for the presidency in the 1964 Democratic primaries, then again as a candidate from his own American Independent Party in 1968. He was back again as a Democrat in 1972 railing against “forced busing” to end segregation in schools.
That campaign was cut short when he was shot during a campaign stop in Laurel, MD, in 1972, and was left paralyzed from the waist down. That incident slowed him down but did not end his aspirations for the nation’s top job. He ran for the last time in 1976 – the fire gone, the body in agony and the country a different place.
By 1982, Wallace tried again for the governor’s seat in Alabama, purporting to be a changed man who had been wrong about race all those years. He was elected governor by the same people he had condemned (and persecuted) in that 1968 brochure at the auction. Wallace died in 1998.
Wallace’s 1968 campaign was scraping for both money and votes, as exemplified in the brochure. He raised funds through small donations and big ones, including a check from actor John Wayne, who was said to have signed one of them “Sock it to ’em, George.” Wayne denied the allegation. Wallace also asked Wayne to be his running mate, but the actor declined.
In the election, Wallace carried five southern states, and garnered 46 electoral votes and nearly 10 million popular votes.
As for the tray of items at auction, I believe it sold for about 5 bucks or less. On eBay, the brochure was a no-sale even for $3.99.