The Sadness of Progressives Who Want Resegregation
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"
The words were spoken by George Wallace at his inauguration as Alabama's governor on January 14, 1963. They were "vehement" and "mean-spirited," wrote a Montgomery, Alabama, reporter.
Having lived through the Wallace era, and, as a young Birmingham newspaper reporter covering him and his exploitation of the race issue to advance his political interests, it was distressing to read recently of college students announcing they wanted roommates of their race only.
They did not experience the world their grandparents and great-grandparents endured.
They never felt the fury of a hot southern afternoon when Trailways and Greyhound buses rolled in bearing bloodied "freedom riders." The contemporary students and their sycophantic professors never were forced to the back of the bus or sent to inferior schools in segregated systems farcically claiming "separate but equal." They never received a call warning that the Klan was on the way to their homes. They never knew the era when "Yankees" driving through the Deep South with car tags identifying their home states attached large Confederate flags to the hoods of their vehicles, hoping they would be banners of protection.
The resegregationists weren't at the University of Alabama when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. They didn't live through that hellish day when the shattered bodies of four little girls were removed from the smoking ruin of their Sunday School room at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a primary Birmingham venue for civil rights rallies. The contemporary resegregationists didn't know what it was like to be blasted by a torrent from a firehose or be snarled at by a vicious attack dog.
The young liberals of the twentieth century sometimes shed their own blood to end racial division, while the leftists of the twenty-first century try to divide us once more. They like to be termed "progressive," but their demand for racial separation is one of the most regressive movements of our time.
The white liberals on the race issue in the segregation era were sometimes conservatives on other matters, like national defense and economics. They were Democrats who supported Kennedy and Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and Scoop Jackson in their efforts to stem global communist expansion. Those "liberal-conservatives" were also with Republican Richard Nixon when, in 1970, he led in the broadest school desegregation ever.
My first assignment in Nixon's White House was to help organize state and local citizens' advisory committees to prepare for the opening of their newly desegregated schools that September. Those groups included heads of the NAACP, school officials, business and church leaders, local politicians, and even former Klan members. Their mission was to encourage people to "Keep Your Cool … Support Your School."
The people, white as well as black, who resisted segregation were inspired by the heroic message of Dr. Martin Luther King. The contemporary resegregationists seek to implement the Marxist strategy of divide and conquer. Racial unity in America stands in the way of their great progressivist march.
How shocking and ironic that the rallying cry of segregationist George Wallace is now being sounded by the left. The culture is indeed being turned upside down.
George Wallace, ultimately, was turned rightside-up.
John Lewis, an Alabama black man who would later become a Georgia Congressman, heard George Wallace's words on January 14, 1963. "My governor, this elected official, was saying, you are not welcome, you are not welcome."
Years later, John Lewis heard Wallace's voice again. "John Lewis, will you come by and talk with me?"
Lewis accepted the invitation.
"I remember the occasion so well," Lewis told an NPR reporter later. "It was like someone confessing to their priest or to a minister. He wanted people to forgive him."
"I never hated anybody; I never hated black people … Mr. Lewis, I am sorry," said George Wallace.
"Well, governor, I accept your apology," Lewis responded.
George Wallace would later speak also in black churches, asking forgiveness.
I, too, heard George Wallace's voice in later years. The first time was around 1971. Wallace, now in a wheelchair because of an assassination attempt, called the White House to urge President Nixon to sign legislation that would expand aid to the handicapped. His call was referred to me. I was suddenly talking to a man about whom I had written so many columns and editorials. In that moment, however, I was moved with compassion because the voice was no longer full of fury, but a plea from someone in great pain wanting to help other sufferers.
By 1980 I was a pastor in Birmingham. Visiting that city's sprawling University Hospital one day to see a parishioner, I heard someone call my name as I prepared to leave. I turned, and it was George Wallace's chief aide.
"The governor is in a room on this floor having a pain-relief treatment. Would you come pray for him?"
I wept as I saw George Wallace on that bed. He had become what we all must — a man humbled enough to recognize his need for the grace and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"In the end, I think George Wallace was one of the signs on this long journey towards the creation of a better America, toward the creation of a more perfect union," said John Lewis decades later on NPR.
But he won't be if the resegregationists and their minions tear down the "sign," and unwittingly cause their children to have to travel that long bloody road again.