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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racism remains a dormant political issue in the South until the 1960s

It was not until the gubernatorial contest between John Patterson and George Wallace that racial antagonism became an overriding theme in southern politics, LeMaistre argues. Patterson garnered support from white supremacists and defeated Wallace in 1958, prompting Wallace's infamous comment, "They'll never out-nigger me again." Until then, and even through the early 1960s, LeMaistre believes that civil rights agitation and white-black conflict remained "under the surface."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. 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

GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Some of the most conservative ones in the country now if they'll admit what they thought when they were in college would be guilty of a little Marxist leanings one way or the other. But I don't, I really don't think that we ever got black on white, white on black, until John Paterson ran against George Wallace—
ALLEN J. GOING:
That's when it really came out in the open.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
When he just more or less said that I don't want your black vote, I want the pure white vote. Wallace, to the surprise of people who have heard him since then, was pretty much on you might say moderate side and, as everybody knows, Wallace's comment after the race was lost was "They'll never out-nigger me again." Of course the papers always write that up as "out-seged" me again.
ALLEN J. GOING:
He really said that. And there wasn't much push in Alabama, was there, on the part of the blacks themselves to get more voting rights?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Not until after the Kennedy election.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Really not until the sixties. You see in the first series of cases about the white primary, all came from Texas, and it was in 1935 that the court validated the Texas white primary.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
And it wasn't really until the one man one vote decision coming up out of Chattanooga in the sixties that blacks really took enough hope to say "we've got a chance on this thing. We can go out now and get the right to vote—get these things carried out the way we want them." Whether that decision came before or after the voting rights act I don't know.
ALLEN J. GOING:
It was before, I think. I think it was '62 I believe— Baker against Carr. But you see Grovey against Townsend which upheld the white primary was reversed in Smith against Allwright in 1944. That was sometimes mentioned as the first major breakthrough by declaring the white primary unconstitutional.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
But now that—all this doesn't mean that there wasn't a continual pressure for further integration. When Truman was president he put out an executive order that race should not in any way affect the selection of people working in federal offices and, if I'm not mistaken, he also made it apply to the army.
ALLEN J. GOING:
He started that.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Yeh.
ALLEN J. GOING:
I don't think it was fully implemented until—
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
—But I remember Mort Jordan who was a Collector of Internal Revenue in Birmingham and a . . .
ALLEN J. GOING:
This was when Truman was president?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Uh huh, and when the Inspector General or one of the people inspecting the office reported that there was a black secretary capable of being promoted to a rather good job, the White House sent a copy of the order—I'm not sure it was the White House or whether it was the Collector of Internal Revenue—but one of them sent a copy to Jordan telling him to move that woman up, and Jordan refused to do it, and Truman fired him with an open statement that because of his contumacious conduct he was being discharged. He's the only federal employee I know of who ever got that treatment around here. [laugh] And I think that he did that without even consulting any of the political figures in Washington. He called the senators so that there was pressure I mean. There was a great deal more movement toward integration than you would infer from the fact it was kept out of the political races.
ALLEN J. GOING:
It was beneath the surface.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Yeh, it was under the surface more than anything else.
ALLEN J. GOING:
But you had the FEPC during World War II that a—then it was a very controversial issue after the war.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
And if you look through the record, and the speeches that were made by the candidates from the South, almost without exception they found some reason to be against FEPC—an unwarranted interference with free enterprise, keeping people from making rightful business decisions that they ought to be entitled to whatever the argument. Most of the time it was a specious argument of some kind, but they never said, "I'm against it because it helps the blacks." There was never anyone of them that I know of who said "I'm just for a white democracy."