The political opportunism of segregationist George Wallace

“It’s not that we don’t like black people, it’s that we hate them. To his constituents in the state of Alabama, this governor promised “segregation now, tomorrow and forever.” Karine Prémont, professor of applied politics, talks about the troubling times when South Americans felt under siege, and tells Jacques Beauchamp how George Wallace embraced racism in order to seize power, then repudiate it at the end of his life.

Born in 1919, George Wallace first started out as a moderate progressive. In 1946, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives.

In 1958, he suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the governorial election. It was then that he chose to exploit racial divisions and the fear of desegregation. The change of course was a success and he became governor of Alabama in 1962.

George Wallace posted in front of the entrance to the University of Alabama in 1963 to block entry to blacks

Photo : afp via getty images / AFP

When radicalism pays

According to Karine Prémont, this event radicalizes George Wallace. She lists his brilliant gestures, such as blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama to black students.

He will focus his speech on the law of States, on the defense of individual freedoms, on the struggle […] against government intervention … We know that it is a coded language to talk about racism.

Karine Prémont, professor of applied politics

Photo from 1975 showing Alabama Governor George Wallace, in a wheelchair, outside the residence of British politician Margaret Thatcher.

A terrorist attack in 1972 left George Wallace disabled.

Photo : Getty Images / Dennis Oulds

From local to national

In 1964, Wallace led the first of his four unsuccessful presidential campaigns. Each time, he gained national support, so much so that in 1972 President Richard Nixon felt the need to stand in his way.

It was during this same campaign that George Wallace was the victim of an attack which left him paralyzed. Who wanted to silence him? At this point in his career, the politician has lost count of his enemies.

During this program, Karine Prémont explains how Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump were inspired by George Wallace.

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