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Lesson Plan

George C. Wallace and the Politics of Segregation

About this Video
This seven-minute video introduces students to the politics of white backlash against the civil rights movement by chronicling the rise of Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, the most vocal defender of segregation during the 1960s and early 1970s. After losing his first gubernatorial campaign for being too moderate on racial issues, Wallace shifted his positions to suit the increasingly anti-integration views of his constituents, only to shift back to moderation and reconciliation in the late 1970s after political winds had changed. Useful for lessons focused on the evolving racial politics of the 60s and 70s, the video shows students how desegregation and the civil rights movement led to a tumultuous reshuffling of American politics.
Content Advisory: This video includes historical footage of an assassination attempt and racially insensitive language.
Objectives
  • How Alabama Gov. George Wallace achieved national prominence by manipulating the politics of racial resentment.
  • How the emerging political power of black voters and leaders caused Wallace to change his posture towards racial politics.
  • How the achievements of the civil rights movement reshaped the politics of race.
Subjects
  • U.S. History
Topics
  • Civil Rights
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Donald Trump
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Political Campaigns
  • Race in America
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • 1950s America
  • 1960s America
  • 1970s America
  • America After 2000
For Teachers
Introducing the Lesson

Five decades ago, an Alabama politician named George C. Wallace used a defense of segregation to reach many middle class Americans who were angry over the civil rights movement.

Wallace, elected governor in 1963, was known for the line “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

Later that year, Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to block the court-ordered enrollment of two black students. He failed to stop the court order but gained national prominence as a fierce segregationist, willing to take on the federal government.

By 1968, Wallace rode the race issue as a third-party candidate to finish third in that year’s presidential campaign, picking up 13.2 percent of the vote and winning five Southern states.

He tried again for the presidency in 1972, entering the Democratic primaries, but was shot by an assassin and forced out of the race.

Wallace recovered but he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and went on to win reelection as governor in 1974 and in 1982.

By the late 1970s, Wallace announced he was a born-again Christian and publicly sought forgiveness from blacks for his segregationist past.

During his fourth and final term as governor, he appointed a record number of blacks to state positions.

Essential Questions
  • What was the focus of George Wallace’s campaign when he first ran for governor of Alabama in 1958? How did his loss in that election change his political posture on racial issues?
  • How did Wallace use the politics of race to advance his career and presidential ambitions during the 1960’s and early 1970s?
  • How had Wallace’s positions on racial politics changed by 1982?
  • How did the black community in Alabama respond to Wallace’s change in posture towards the end of his career?
Lesson Procedure
  • What does Wallace’s career and his changing positions on race relations teach us about how racial politics changed over the course of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s?
  • Do you think Wallace’s change of heart towards the end of his career was motivated by sincere regret, or by politics? Or both? Is it easier for politicians to have a change of heart if it is in their political interest to do so?
  • Wallace was especially effective at manipulating the politics of “us” vs. “them,” and often applied that framework to both race relations and class issues. Do you think modern American politics is still heavily influenced by an “us” vs “them” framework? Do all politicians use this framework to some degree?
  • Throughout American history, dramatic progress in racial equality is often followed by a backlash among some white voters and politicians. Other than the period of time addressed in this video, can you identify other examples in which a wave of progress towards equality was followed by a negative reaction to these changes?
Additional Resources
Transcript for "Us vs. Them: From George Wallace to Donald Trump" Retro Report
"George Wallace Tapped Into Racial Fear. Decades Later, Its Force Remains Potent." Retro Report

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem

Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.

Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.

Analyze multiple and complex causes and effect of events in the past.

Skill 5.B: Explain how a historical process relates to another historical process.

Theme 8: Social Structures (SOC).

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com