Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

By William Warren Rogers; Robert David Ward et al. | Go to book overview

THIRTY-TWO
Racial Politics and Economic Stagnation

FROM 1958 to 1980 the Supreme Court rendered decisions in fourteen cases involving racial issues in Alabama. Each became a landmark. They dealt with First Amendment rights of free press and public assembly, service by blacks on juries, voting rights, single-unit districts versus at-large elections, one man-one vote, and discrimination in public accommodations. From his position as federal judge of the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama from 1955 until 1979, Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., originated many of these cases and contributed importantly to the judicial assault on segregation, Alabama's inequitable tax structure, its unjustly apportioned legislature, and its inhumane treatment of prisoners and mental patients. It is fair to say that the bitter resistance of Alabama whites played a major role in the success of the civil rights agenda on a broad front. Subtle, less violent resistance had largely thwarted the movement. But the often violent and uniformly inept policies of Wallace, Lingo, Clark, Connor, Hanes, and others provided the movement with martyrs, publicity, recruits, and, most important of all, the moral high ground in virtually every confrontation. The long-range consequence was a state deeply polarized along racial lines, one of the highest numbers of elected black officials of any state, and a lingering residue of negative national stereotypes that proved that history is never over, history is never past, and generations unborn carry the burdens of their parents.

The very same momentum that drove Alabama blacks into the civil rights movement drove Alabama whites into Wallacism. In all of the South, Alabama was the only state that failed to elect any of the progressive reformers known as "New South governors" between the 1960s and the 1990s. One central reason was the bitter resentment of the state's white voters against any reformer who sought black support. As the tide of black voter registration rose, a white progressive candidate needed to carry only slightly more than 40 percent of the white vote to win. But so polarized and angry had whites become that no gubernatorial candidate endorsed by blacks could gain such a white following. When poor

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