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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Richard Arrington, July 18, 1974. Interview A-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Puzzlement at black endorsements of George Wallace

Arrington recalls that he was puzzled by black officeholders who endorsed George Wallace, possibly in the presidential election of 1972. He rejects the idea that Wallace, at the time governor of Alabama, had left behind his racist political ideology. He also says that the media exaggerated Wallace's black support. Arrington himself, however, would support a Democratic presidential ticket with Wallace as vice president.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Richard Arrington, July 18, 1974. Interview A-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
What's your reaction to those black office holders who endorsed George Wallace?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
Well, I guess I'm somewhat puzzled by it, to be very honest. I've not talked with the mayor down in Tuskegee, John Ford, about that. Though I've talked with him about a lot of things. Not about that. But I have talked at some length with Jay Cooper, who is a good friend of mine, down in Pritchard. Even up to the recent meeting of the executive Democratic committee. I'm a member of the executive Democratic committee here in the state. And of course at that meeting Jay came out, of course, endorsing the Wallace slate, so to speak and there was really a fight between the Wallace and the Vance slate for control of the Democratic party. And I've talked with Jay. But I am puzzled by it. You see, people say to me that Mr Wallace of course has changed. I don't know that he has. . . . He has an opportunity to appoint blacks to boards. He still does not do it. You know, recently he made one appointment. He appointed the president of my board here, Dr Simpson, to the ETV board. But Mr Wallace has not appointed blacks to boards though he must make about 1,000 appointments. And he still has not done it. That is not any indication of a man who has changed as far as I'm concerned. Secondly, I look at things like the order handed down by Judge Johnson about hiring black troopers. And Wallace has done everything possible, I think, to sort of serve as an obstacle to that, increasing the number of blacks. Theppeople who support Wallace would argue that . . . and Mr Wallace's supporters also argued. . . . Blacks who endorse him argue and his other supporters argue that if blacks would vote for him and give him some support he in turn would do more for blacks. Of course I guess I'm one of those people who argues that if he wants black votes he ought to do more for blacks. So I guess it's a question of who makes the move first. I do think that if you carefully analyze the predominantly black boxes in this state last time, you're going to find there has been some exaggeration by the news media about the amount of black support Wallace received.
JACK BASS:
Have you done any such analysis or seen any?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
I've only looked at the brief analysis done by Henry O. Jackson, on the Birmingham World. He has analyzed several of the predominantly large black boxes there.
JACK BASS:
What did he come up with?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
He noted that Wallace got less than 10% of the votes in those boxes.
JACK BASS:
I talked to one person who said he did his own state wide analysis and said 12%. I've heard others say 7.
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
Well, Henry Jackson took what I thought was a good cross section of boxes, black boxes, and on that analysis . . . I remember it was less than 10%. So I do think that's somewhat misleading. I think it's good for Mr Wallace's image, you know, his national image. It is not necessary for him to openly fan the fires of racism any more. Because I don't think there's anybody . . . Wallace is so powerful in Alabama . . . I don't think there's anybody who is really to the right of him or who. . . . I just don't even think he's threatened in terms of losing his political strength. What he had to do, I feel, was to try to slowly pull in more black voters. Carefully do this by not being openly offensive to blacks. But still he has not given up very much in terms of trying to get blacks more involved in the political process.
JACK BASS:
What would he have to do that would indicate to you that he has changed?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
I think he would have to begin to appoint some blacks to some positions where decisions were made, on boards. I think he would have to begin to do some of that. I think he would have to at least adopt some sort of sensible policy at the state level or encourage or support some sort of sensible policy for increasing black employment. Rather than always appearing to be opposed to it. Or still making it necessary for blacks to have to go to court to try to get employment opportunities opened up in state agencies. Just about all these things that blacks can point to or Wallace can point to in the way of progress that blacks have made have come not as a result of any leadership from Mr Wallace in this area, any sensible leadership in this area. It has come instead as a result of court action in most of the cases. Mr Wallace . . . in my opinion Mr Wallace and Mr Nixon are very much alike in this respect in their politics. There's not much difference in it except Mr Wallace was once so openly racist that a lot of people that consider themselves to be respectable would not want to openly embrace him. They could not, even though they shared his viewpoints. But they wanted to be respectable, so they couldn't openly embrace a man who was considered national wide—maybe even international in some senses—to be racist. I think Mr Nixon has been able to cloak racism. Give it a cloak of respectability. He would never stand in the school house door, but he certainly is against busing and he certainly has taken some other postures as far as school desegregation goes. He would never say no to hiring blacks, but he's against quotas and so forth and programs that have proved effective in the federal government in increasing the black employment. So it's the same sort of thing but in one place it's sugar coated and the other place it wasn't. Now maybe Mr Wallace is moving more toward the center where he's going to sugar coat what I consider to be his racist view.
JACK BASS:
How would you feel if Wallace were on the Democratic national ticket in '76?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
I wouldn't be happy about it but I . . . I assume you're talking about in the vice presidential thing. A candidate for vice president. I would support him. I'm much more interested in who is running for president than I am vice president. And I am slowing coming to realize political realities of the situation. I don't always like them. That's why I assume I will never be a good politician. Some of the compromises I think they call for are sort of unacceptable to me. So I can never be ambitious in that respect, political. But I think I would support it in spite of Mr Wallace, assuming that there's a presidential candidate that I. . . .