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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wallace and school desegregation in the 1970s

In 1969, the Alabama courts ruled that Mobile's public schools had to desegregate, so George Wallace went to Prichard, Alabama, a small town just outside Mobile, and urged the parents to take their children out of school in protest. That action caused great turmoil and affected the way the desegregation of Mobile's schools proceeded.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. 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

the courts announced during the summer that Mobile schools would be completely integrated. Announced . . . re-establishing the district lines. And the courts had come up with a plan. Released it, I think, in middle August. As to where the children would go. And there was a lot of busing of white children to black schools and blacks, mostly blacks to white schools. But Wallace made a speech in Pritchard, which is a blue collar area. You're probably familiar . . . Jay Cooper is now mayor out there. An interesting thing. But this had always been . . . prior to the last few years, had been the hard core area of Wallace support in this area. As much as any area of the state. And Wallace had said we're going to block the federal courts, we're going to take our children and put them . . . . Take your children to the school that you want them to go to. I'm governor and it's all right for you to do this. And the legislature has one more day to meet. A few days after Labor Day. "And I am going to introduce a resolution . . . I have a resolution introduced, calling for people to take their children to the school of their choice regardless what the court decisions might be. And I'll back them up. And we're going to find out who the men are in the legislature and who the boys are." It was a pretty clear cut issue. The resolution was introduced, ironically by Sage Lyons, the fellow who had been elected with me in that special election. We had been in law school together and close friends. I was the only one in the house to speak against it. Very simple. I'm not in favor of busing, I'm just in favor of law and order. I felt the governor was wrong, that it was ill advised of the legislatureto recommend to their constituents that they place themselves in contempt of court and to further harden already very difficult emotional situation. No good could come of it. And there were four other people who voted with me. Five of us. I was the only one in this county. So . . . I was told at the time I would never be reelected if I spoke against it. It was a hard fight, yet it shows how much feeling has changed here that a person . . . . I would think three or four years before I would not have been able to be re-elected. This was the issue and probably the key issue when I ran a year later for re-election. My opponent was picked to run against me, probably one of the stronger of the new young faces coming along. He ran on the ticket of get Wallace a person he can work with, who can work with him, somebody's who's not afraid to speak up and stand up for your children. This sort of thing. Never will forget though . . . . Ever could get a tape of this it would be something that people should remember. Always get a little emotional when I think back on those times. There was a film on channel 10 here, the NBC affiliate, of Rene [unclear] , who's a young tv news reporter who was covering the school desegregation and enrolling of the students right after that, those few days. Wallace's speech, firey speech out at Pritchard, telling the parents to go to school was all right. He was telling them to do this. Could take the children to the school they wanted to go to, regardless of what district they'd been placed in, been assigned, under the court order. And there was a scene a week later, Rene Bradmer stopping this lady who was running out . . . white lady, middle aged, I'd say blue collar lady, not well educated but very emotional, upset, crying, visibly crying there on the television. Bradmer stopped her, grabbed her, asked "Ma'am, what's wrong?" And she looked straight in to the camera and said "The governor lied to me." "What do you mean?" "Governor Wallace lied to me. I was at Pritchard last week and he said I could take my child to any school that I wanted to. And I can't." Broke down crying. She had a child she was taking home. But this was the type of thing that had been . . . there were many scenes like this because of Wallace's involvement. And of course all it did was harden the situation. Luckily, Mobile learned from that situation and a year later we had a . . . there was a further court order that was so harsh . . . . It called for triple pairing of schools. It was a 5th circuit order, overruling some local judges. The community . . . the black and white community leaders sat down and worked it out and got very good support from the local school board. In '71 they worked out a three year moratorium. They worked out a plan essentially, I think some people referred to it at one time as the national plan. One way busing. Whites being bused to white schools and there are blacks being bused. But there are no all white schools of any consequence in the county. There are a number of all black schools, in black areas. But the flight, the white flight to private schools had been so great . . . and the lack of public support of the public school system was building at such a rate, that the black leadership decided they had to save the public school system. We worked out a plan that has been implemented and it's worked out quite well. I shouldn't have gone with that. Mobile, though, is coming along. It's changed so much in the 15 years that I've been here. Well, the whole South has. The race situation.