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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 >>

Most white Alabamans are not vicious racists

When LeMaistre was working to facilitate the integration of the University of Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan harassed him with frequent phone calls. The Klan represented only the most extreme Alabamans, LeMaistre thinks, most of whom were not viciously anti-integration. George Wallace also played a big role in whipping up racist sentiments.

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

You had also indicated that during the time when you were trying to prepare the way for peaceful integration of the University you received a good many annoying phone calls. Were some of them threatening too?
Oh yes. We had calls to me and my family all day and all night—at most any hour. I found out later that the group that was behind it was actually the Ku Klux Klan. And they were assigning people whose duty it was to call me and Buford Boone and one or two others periodically so we couldn't get a good night's sleep. It was annoying, but I guess it wasn't dangerous. Jeff Bennett was one of those getting calls, and, as I recall it, he stopped the calls that were being directed to him simply by confronting Bobby Shelton and telling him that he had named Shelton as the physical guardian of his son. And if anything happened to his son, he was just going to kill Shelton. He just made it plain to Shelton that's what was going to happen; he never got another call. So I guess that they were simply carrying on a campaign. The big uproar in Tuscaloosa really came about at the time of the meeting of the merchants at the Stafford Hotel before the Wallace stand in the door when we were sending the petition to him not to come up here, not to send troopers up here, to let the local people handle it. There was quite a lot of interest at that time. As a matter of fact, the NBC had a camera crew here. They came around taping my office at the back [?]. The BBC came out to my house and set up all the equipment to interview me and other members of my family. And one of the men in the crew told me that they were hoping that one of these calls that had been coming in might come in while they were there, but it didn't happen. So they didn't have any sensational call to put on the British TV the next day, but that was the kind of interest that was generated. As I recall it, Tom Petit was here for the NBC news. Tom's getting a little old now but he's still with them. I recall a number of others—local (not Tuscaloosa, because we didn't have a station at that time); Birmingham correspondents of TV stations were down. We got complete coverage. Buford Boone undertook to set up a center for the journalists where they had telephones, some wire service to get their material back—but not as elaborate as the one Ronald Reagan had when he spoke here this past year. It was quite a good setup for the time, and most of the visiting journalists were quite high in their praise for the facilities that were made available to them. I've forgotten the man from the London Times—Henry Brandon covered the thing. He spoke to me several times about how nice people had been to him. It didn't seem to him that there was any great undercurrent of violence or any real hatred involved. It was just a matter of breaking customs, and I think that may have been a pretty fair solution. I don't think at that time, outside the Ku Klux Klan and a few rabble who were easily roused, we had any demonstration that people had any real hatred of blacks. They were hoping that they wouldn't continue with their thrust for civil rights, but the truth of the matter is that a great many people recognized that they were not getting a fair shake. They just hoped against hope that there would be some way to assure them of what they were due without going through some kind of traumatic experience for them to get it.
It probably would have gone off pretty quietly if it had not been for George Wallace.
I don't think there's any doubt that George Wallace did more to stir up ill feeling between the races than any of the local people did. That doesn't mean that there weren't some evidences of violence. As you know, later on we had the first African Baptist Church almost torn up by a mob.