Monday, January 14, 2008

January 14

On this date in 1963, George Corley Wallace announced his triumphant arrival into the Alabama governor's office in Montgomery. In a loathsome ode to herrenvolk democracy, Wallace stoked the fires of white resentment against the modest gains of the civil rights movement, which had entered perhaps its most critical year to date:
Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again through history. Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever. . . .

Hear me, Southerners! You sons and daughters who have moved north and west throughout this nation . . . . we call on you from your native soil to join with us in national support and vote . . and we know . . . wherever you are . . away from the hearths of the Southland . . . that you will respond, for though you may live in the fartherest reaches of this vast country . . . . your heart has never left Dixieland.

And you native sons and daughters of old New England's rock-ribbed patriotism . . . and you sturdy natives of the great Mid-West . . and you descendants of the far West flaming spirit of pioneer freedom . . we invite you to come and be with us . . for you are of the Southern spirit . . and the Southern philosophy . . . you are Southerners too and brothers with us in our fight.
By the end of 1963, the March on Washington would take place; police officers in Birmingham would unleash German shepherds and fire hoses against unarmed men, women, and children; four young girls would be obliterated in a church bombing in that same city; Medgar Evers would be gunned down outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi; and John Kennedy -- who watched all of this with mounting dismay -- would have his brains scattered across the seats of a limousine in Dallas.