Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

George Wallace exploits opposition to integration

LeMaistre remembers the 1962 Democratic gubernatorial primary and the runoff that followed. George Wallace had taken on the segregationist mantle and his rhetoric was riling up "rabble rousers." Wallace, according to LeMaistre, was "blessed with a complete absence of principles," and based his political career on demagoguery. (LeMaistre remembers also the candidacy of Lurleen Wallace, George's wife, who ran in his stead because a second consecutive term would violate Alabama law. Lurleen faced Ryan DeGraffenried, who died in a plane crash during the campaign.)

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

ALLEN J. GOING:
But as you move on into sixty-two, that was an election year, and the Democratic primary for governor was in May. Was that when Ryan deGraffenried ran against Wallace? I'm pretty sure it was, because he was killed in sixty-six in that airplane accident.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
I'm trying to think who was eliminated in that race. Ryan was not very outspoken on the race issue; he didn't get involved in it very much. Wallace was because Wallace was now seeking to switch to the other side. He had run against the Ku Klux Klan when Patterson was elected in fifty-eight.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Patterson got the Klan support.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Right. And that's when Wallace made his famous statement, "They'll never out-nigger me again." And this time he consciously set out to stir the issue of segregation and whatever other racial issues there might be. And took a very determined stand against mixing of the races in any way, schools, busses, or anywhere else.
ALLEN J. GOING:
In the first primary Wallace ran against deGraffenried and Folsom. Folsom and deGraffenried got about the same number of votes, but then there was a runoff between deGraffenried and Wallace.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Right. That was when Folsom had slipped quite a bit. His conduct didn't please most of the people at that time. I think that was the inauguration speech that Wallace threw the gauntlet down and drew the line in the dust and said that he would be for segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. That encouraged quite a lot of rabble rousers around the state.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That would have been January of sixty-three.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
And that was the culmination of this race we are talking about.
ALLEN J. GOING:
What about deGraffenried? He wasn't ever involved much with Clement and the congressmen and the Hill group was he?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
He was too young.
ALLEN J. GOING:
I didn't mean in school.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, he came by Foots's office every now and them. He was Ed's son and was a very good student, a good mixer, and was fairly liberal. He was not a left-winger, but opposed to Wallace, he looked very liberal. He was a very knowledgeable boy; he finished near the top of his class in law school and ran a very creditable race for his first race.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Had he been in the legislature? Must have . . .
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
I'm sure he spent one term in the Senate. I'm not sure when he was first elected. He ran though almost immediately after getting out of law school. His influence was quite keenly felt around Tuscaloosa. He had a good following in Tuscaloosa and was a real factor in the races. As a matter of fact, in the race four years afterwards it was pretty well believed around here by most everybody that he was going to win when the plane flew into the side of that mountain and killed him. Of course, that's when Lurleen was elected.
ALLEN J. GOING:
But as you've said before, he couldn't afford to take a strong stand on the civil rights question.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, he didn't have to because he hadn't been a party to any of it. He had come along at a time when his own political races didn't involve any of the issues that were being brought out in the governor's race. There really wasn't any great movement in Tuscaloosa County to get a black in the legislature; there weren't enough black votes. He appealed to both white and black. I think Ryan got a generous number of the black votes. He was not a crusader, and he didn't come on as the one to save us from Wallace. He just showed up as a rather clean-cut young man that would make a good governor.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Tried to conduct a positive campaign. But Wallace's slogan was "Stand up for Alabama," whatever that meant.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
It meant whatever George Wallace wanted it to mean. He had the Alice-in-Wonderland approach to language. One reason that Wallace's statements and the language he used really didn't make a great problem or issue for any of those who were opposed to him was that about this time Wallace began to turn his attention to national affairs. And was talking about the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, if you put them in a bag and drew one out, there wouldn't be a dime's worth of difference between the two—and that kind of stuff. Wallace, I suppose, was blessed with a complete absence of principles. he didn't have to worry about what he believed; he simply attacked what somebody else believed. And it made entertaining listening for somebody listening to political speeches who liked that kind of thing, but it certainly had no relationship to political science or to decent government. He was prone to say whatever he thought the people out there wanted to hear.