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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howell Heflin, July 9, 1974. Interview A-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wallace's popularity based on sympathy

Heflin tries to explain George Wallace's popularity. Wallace's recovery from an assassination attempt and the death of his wife prompted admiration and sympathy, Heflin believes.

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Oral History Interview with Howell Heflin, July 9, 1974. Interview A-0010. 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.

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Wallace has been around or in office or his wife has or somebody since 1962. When a politician is around that long, generally his popularity goes down. His is higher now than ever before. What's the reason for that?
Well, you had a series of events. There's no doubt that his unfortunate shooting has given him a great deal of sympathy. And with this in mind. . . I mean, the question is if he hadn't been shot what would be the situation at this time? If he hadn't been an invalid? I don't know. It's speculation. But it might have been entirely different. That factor alone is a significant factor. He has really had no issue. He had the busing issue which was a popular issue. Maybe some people say the issue of tax reform. But I don't think the average Alabamian associates tax reform with George Wallace. I mean I think this is something he's gained nationally . But it has to be that right now his great degree of popularity is his injury, his fighting spirit to overcome it. He had this. . . personal things that have gone on all his life. His wife dying of cancer was a significant factor. I don't think you can. . . . And the long period that she had that she lived with it. That's a factor. I think he's got a fighting spirit that the average voter likes. But he's had a series of personal things that have happened to him that some way or another get out to the voter and the voter sympathizes with him. Or at least maybe the voter feels a part of it, the empathy of whatever it might be.
So you're saying he has a personal kind of attraction?
Well, I wouldn't say it altogether, but I would say that you can't divorce those factors from him. He's had. . . . Right now been an election I don't know what the outcome would be. But there's been speculation. But if he had not been . . . if he had not been an invalid, if he had not displayed the fighting spirit in effect to overcome it, the spirit to. . . . I think the average people feels that he exercises, works hard. The parallels of Franklin D. Roosevelt's rise to fame following his polio. Those are all factors that you just can't divorce and say that they haven't had no input. If you try to divorce that and then put in the balance of the scales the other factors . . . altogether the fighting spirit, maybe the changed attitude on racial matters if that be true.