Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

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

THIRTY-THREE
A Time to Heal: Struggling to Find a New Vision, 1970-1990

THE prominence of race as a political issue steadily receded after 1972. George Wallace remained the dominant figure in state politics, continued to influence public discourse, and drove national politics to the right. But Wallace, ever the opportunist, moderated his racial views as increasing numbers of blacks registered to vote.

Birmingham, so long the national symbol of unyielding resistance to integration, experienced perhaps the most profound racial transition of any American city during the 1970s and 1980s. On June 25, 1973, the Birmingham News published a special magazine insert that analyzed the city ten years after the bloody confrontations of 1963. Although the articles were predictably upbeat, emphasizing how much the city and state had changed in a decade, they did not ignore problems either. In 1963 not a single black elected official had served the state; a decade later more than 120 constituted the largest number of any state in the Union. In May 1973 Chris McNair, the commercial photographer whose daughter had died in the September 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, won election to the state legislature in a countywide election. Several thousand of his votes came from whites, although the real key to his election was a low white turnout and a substantial black vote. The Jefferson County Progressive Democratic Council, organized just before the beginning of the Second World War, mobilized new black voters in forty-two units. The organization also elected attorney Arthur Shores and Miles College professor Richard Arrington, Jr., to the city council. The black voter organization became sophisticated in its endorsements. In 1970 the JCPDC refused to endorse the right-wing Democrat who challenged incumbent congressman John Buchanan, who had won election in the 1964 Goldwater sweep. Buchanan, a Southern Baptist minister with conservative fiscal policies who was remarkably liberal on race, received 35 percent of the black vote. But in 1972 Ben Erdreich, a progressive Jewish Democrat, won 97.5 percent of the black vote in a losing contest against Buchanan. In 1971 the JCPDC helped elect progressive Republican George Seibels mayor.

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