Henry Wallace's 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism

By Thomas W. Devine | Go to book overview

9
THIRTY YEARS TOO SOON
Gideon’s Army Invades Dixie

On August 29, 1948, Henry A. Wallace boarded a plane to Norfolk, Virginia, thereby launching a weeklong, seven-state southern tour that would provide his third party crusade with many of its most dramatic moments. Wallace’s decision to challenge segregation in the heart of the Jim Crow South grabbed front-page headlines throughout the country, winning the Progressive Party the most sustained media coverage it would receive during the campaign. Had it not been for President Truman’s dramatic comeback, one veteran reporter later recalled, the Wallace tour would have been the biggest political story of the year.1 Expectant Progressives’ hopes ran high. Many believed that Wallace’s trip would focus nationwide attention on the injustice of segregation, and, more important, unite southern working-class blacks and whites against those who exploited racial divisions to preserve their own special privilege. In the short term, they hoped that Wallace’s courageous stance would win him the votes of white liberals and African Americans in the North and inspire a major voter registration drive among blacks in the South, giving the party the shot in the arm it so badly needed.

Convinced that the southern “masses” of both races constituted a natural alliance, the Wallaceites offered their party to the South as a vehicle through which the “common man” could challenge and ultimately overcome the bourbon elite that had long prevented the development of genuine democracy in Dixie. Especially in the one-party South, Progressives argued, the only realistic strategy to combat the wealthy white reactionaries’

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