When George Wallace Came to Town
Throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, many leftists were confused that such a sizable number of white, blue-collar workers supported him. He won, in part, thanks to these votes, which edged him to victory in the key Rust Belt states.
The 2016 presidential campaign held plenty of surprises, but Trump’s appeal to that section of the American working class didn’t surprise me at all. I grew up in Stoughton, Massachusetts, a small town a little less than twenty miles south of Boston. Today, locals know it because it’s home to New England’s largest Ikea. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, Stoughton achieved notoriety for something very different: it became a battleground over low-income, racially integrated housing.
In that context, the notorious southern bigot George C. Wallace came hunting for votes and found a ready-made audience among blue-collar workers.
Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama became famous in 1963 when he declared that he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He demonstrated this resolve by blocking the University of Alabama’s doorway to stop the first black students from enrolling. In 1964, he decided to take his show on the road.
That year, Wallace tested the waters at three carefully selected primaries — Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland — where he thought he could find a sympathetic audience. He attacked integration and praised the police, clearly appealing to traditionally Democratic voters who opposed their party’s civil rights measures.
In each, he impressively garnered at least a third of the vote; at the time, many believed that he had actually won the Maryland primary.
No one would call George Wallace a conventional politician. He was friends with Alabama Klan leader Robert Shelton and his United Klans of America. Alabama under his governorship saw some of worst violence of the civil rights era, including the Birmingham church bombing, which killed four young girls, and Viola Liuzzo’s murder. ...