Romney's "Take Back America": George Wallace Legacy

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George Wallace said, “Stand Up for America.” Romney/Ryan say, “Taking Back America” begs the question – how far back are we going?





There
is a tension in the air. It is not the excitement children feel
awaiting Christmas or a special birthday. It is a foreboding. Like a
scary movie when she approaches a door to the unlit basement. One day
before Joe Biden and Paul Ryan debated in Danville, Kentucky, the
“reverse discrimination” case of Fisher v. Texas was argued before the
U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court will soon decide if race can be used as
one factor in college admissions. This election will decide the future
of the Court and the country. That is why George Wallace, a racist from
the 1960s, is haunting this election.

George Wallace
was a thin funny-looking White politician from Alabama who learned the
importance of using the race card in elections. He was known for fiery
speeches which stoked White fears of Black progress. As Democratic
Governor of Alabama, Wallace vowed to stop Vivian Malone, a Black
applicant, from integrating the University of Alabama.

When Wallace died
in 1998 an obituary by John Anderson stated Ronald Reagan and George
H.W. Bush “successfully adopted toned-down versions of Wallace’s
anti-busing, anti-federal government platform to pry low-and
middle-income whites from the Democratic New Deal coalition.”

As
I watched the first debate between President Obama and Willard “Mitt”
Romney, the tactics of George Wallace played out in this millionaires’
claim that he stood for working and middle class Americans against a
President who was keeping them from succeeding. In the Biden/Ryan
debate, Biden was confrontational, pointed, and lively because he was
not saddled with the “angry Black man” burden President Obama carries.

Obama must tread the fine line between being a Black president and a
Black man.

The roots of race run deep in American
politics. For his 1968 presidential bid, George Wallace sought Happy
Chandler, former baseball commissioner and Governor of Kentucky, as
vice-presidential running mate. Since Wallace was a segregationist,
Chandler’s invitation was retracted when Wallace discovered Chandler had
endorsed the Brooklyn Dodger’s hiring of Jackie Robinson. Not far from
Danville, is the site of Kentucky’s largest Civil War battle, the Battle
of Perryville. Fought 150 years ago on October 10, the battle was a
short-lived victory for the Confederates who were later forced to
retreat by the Union Army.

The “Wallace for President”
slogan for his 1968 presidential bid was “Stand Up for America.”
However, “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, Segregation forever” is
the slogan that made him famous in 1963. Wallace played on the fears
interlopers taking over the country. Today, the Republican slogan “We
Built It” declares ownership rights. The slogan ignores the
contributions of enslaved African labor and assumes trespassers are
staking a false claim on the country.

The Romney/Ryan
slogan “Take Back America” begs the question – how far back are we
going?

There was a time when people of color lived in constant fear of
White lynch mobs. There was a time when "land of the free" meant only
certain people had Constitutional freedoms and segregation was the law
of the land. Today, housing remains segregated. Public schools are
majority minority in every major city.

It is not enough that
African-Americans are harassed by stop and frisk regimes. While White
unemployment is 7.9, the unemployment rate is 11.5 percent for Latinos,
13.4 for African-American adults, and 23.7 for African-American teens.

Yet,
there seems to be a longing for a time when Whiteness meant possessing
power with impunity, at least with regard to people of color. A 1908
postcard image of five Black men hanging lifelessly from a dogwood tree
contains this poem: “The negro now by eternal grace. Must learn to stay
in the negro’s place. In the sunny south, the land of the free, Let the
white supreme forever be. Let this a warning to all negroes be. Or
they’ll suffer the fate of the dogwood tree.”

This postcard was proudly
published by Harkrider Drug Company in Center, Texas.

Over
4,000 men, women, and children have been lynched in this country. In
2005, the U.S. Senate apologized for obstructing anti-lynching laws.
When Asian immigrants were the object of fear by White labor groups,
violence and anti-Asian laws followed. Last year, Congress apologized
for passing the Chinese Exclusion Act. Japanese-Americans were given
over a billion dollars in reparations for their unfair internment during
World War II.

Our democracy is being tested. Fear and
anger were expertly manipulated by George Wallace. For which he
apologized in later life. However, no one will know the lives and
livelihoods lost to his inflammatory rhetoric. As the presidential
election nears, those who now choose to stoke racial tensions for
political expediency may be igniting events for which there can be no
apology or reparation.    


"Speaking Truth To Empower."


______________________    
 
Gloria
J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at
John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American
Society: 1607 to Present,” and “The U.S. Constitution: An
African-American Context.” She is a free-lance journalist covering the
U.S. Supreme Court and political issues. Her upcoming book is: “Black
Women and the Law.”

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