Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988

By Brenda Gayle Plummer | Go to book overview

Segregationists and the World
The Foreign Policy of the White Resistance
THOMAS NOER

As he waited for his ride to Rockefeller Center, George Wallace was nervous. In his first term as governor of Alabama he had become the leading symbol of the white resistance to the civil rights movement and was considering running for the presidency in 1964. In a few days he would fulfill his campaign promise to “stand in the schoolhouse door” to prevent black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. But first he faced a panel of journalists on NBC's nationally televised Meet the Press.

Wallace did not fear questions on race or segregation, but, as a potential presidential contender, was certain he would be asked his views on foreign affairs. In frustration, Wallace turned to aide Grover Hall: “They're going to want to know about my foreign policy. If I'm going to run for the presidency next year I've got to have a foreign policy!” Hall rummaged through some clippings on international issues from the Wall Street Journal and handed them to the governor. After his TV appearance, a smiling Wallace shouted to Hall: “I don't need a foreign policy! All they wanted to know about was niggers, and I'm the expert!” 1 Wallace was essentially correct. Opponents of the civil rights movement largely concentrated on the single issue of resisting racial equality. Despite this fundamental focus, segregationists eventually turned their attention to U.S. foreign policy in an effort to justify and to gain support for their battle to preserve white supremacy.

The foreign policy of the segregationists was never elaborate or comprehensive. They offered no detailed position papers on diplomatic issues or proposed any major policy initiatives. Their analysis of foreign affairs was a mixture of paranoia and pragmatism. They saw themselves as a besieged minority under attack by black demonstrators and a hostile government at home and by an alliance of antagonistic nations abroad. Resistance leaders argued that the source of this assault was an international conspiracy dedicated to inciting racial conflict to divide and weaken America. Their claim of a nefarious global plot against segregation was accompanied by a very practical decision that they could use Cold War anticommunism to gain support for their domestic agenda.

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