August 25th of this year marks the centennial of my father’s birth, and the occasion offers an appropriate opportunity for us to reflect not only upon his life and career, but upon the history of our state, as well.
Born seven years before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, George C. Wallace grew up in a rural portion of Alabama that, in many ways, was still recovering from the Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed.
Among the traditions of his era was the practice of racial segregation, a system that had been in place for generations and one that would ultimately prove to be both wrong and indefensible, but too many Alabamians, it was the accepted way of everyday life.
It was a system that my father and thousands of other elected officials throughout the Deep South states fought to preserve, but unlike others, he sought to retain it through peaceful, methodical, and more temperate measures.
My father was certainly defiant, charismatic, and energetic in his battle against what he perceived as a threat from the central government to control every aspect of our lives, but he was never violent.
He understood as both a well-educated attorney and as one of the greatest politicians this or any other state has ever produced that violence and bloodshed would harm his cause, not help it. And, as a Christian, he instinctively knew in his soul that violence was wrong.
He ensured the University of Alabama campus was swept clean of any item that could be used as a weapon prior to his “Stand In The Schoolhouse Door” at Foster Auditorium because he wanted to avoid the same violence that occurred when Ole Miss University was integrated.
Every stick, stone, and pebble was methodically removed from the grounds of the Quad, and soft drink machines that dispensed bottles were replaced with ones that filled paper cups. In order to further quell trouble, he appeared on statewide television the night before student registration and implored citizens to stay away from campus and allow him to be their spokesman.
The result of his efforts was the peaceful and non-violent integration of the University.
He later became good friends with the two students who eventually made history on that hot June day. James Hood invited my father to attend his graduation when he received his doctorate from the University of Alabama, and Vivian Malone Jones was among the honored guests at his state funeral in 1998.
There are those who wrongly suggest without one scintilla of evidence that he commanded Alabama state troopers to charge the marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He, in fact, ordered Col. Al Lingo and Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark to protect the marchers if they crossed the bridge while he contacted President Johnson and requested federal troops to provide security throughout their 50 mile trek to Montgomery.
The late Montgomery Advertiser reporter Bob Ingram was in the Governor’s Office when news of the violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge was received, and he later wrote extensively that my father was enraged as he stormed around his office and said, “This is the last thing I wanted!”
In today’s climate of extreme political correctness and strident advocacy journalism, those who seek to tell my father’s story focus almost exclusively on the tragedy in Selma and the events of 1965 and prior, but that is not where his journey ended.
It is, in many ways, where the most important journey of his life began.
Though he was a leader in preserving the Old South custom of segregation, he was an equally determined advocate of progress and racial reconciliation once the antiquated way of life was dissolved.
My father famously appeared at a meeting of African-American ministers at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King once led the Montgomery Bus Boycott,, and he told them he was wrong to defend such an outdated tradition. He also met and spoke privately with leaders like Rev. Joseph Lowry, Congressman John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, and others and candidly discussed his error of judgement.
There is no doubt that the redemptive example he set led millions of Alabamians – many of them the parents, grandparents, and great grandparents of those who are reading this column – to accept, adapt, and embrace the dramatic social and cultural changes, as well. I know that my sisters – Lee and Peggy, as well as Bobbie, who passed away in 2015 – share that belief.
Southerners of all races are a devout people with a deep sense of forgiveness, which is evidenced by the fact that my father was elected to his final terms as governor with the overwhelming votes and political support of the African-American community. He, in turn, appointed more minorities to office than any governor before or, very likely, since.
Let us not forget that my father offered forgiveness just as dramatically as he sought it when he quietly wrote a letter to the man who shot five bullets into his body and confined him to a wheelchair. He told his assailant, “Please seek our Heavenly Father because I love you, and I am going to Heaven, and I want you to be going, too.”
Throughout the past 100 years, my father’s journey and our state’s history have largely paralleled each other. Both moved from the aftermath of the Civil War to the promise of Civl Rights. Both traversed the often difficult path from segregation to integration. And both had the courage to change and embrace new truths.
Judging the Alabama of today by the grainy black-and-white images captured during the height of the Civil Rights Movement more than 50 years ago does a disservice to our state.
Judging my father’s life, career, and legacy without viewing the entirety of his journey does the same disservice to him because the truth he ultimately embraced and nurtured is the truth we should all embrace today.
George Wallace Jr. is the son of Alabama Govs. George and Lurleen Wallace. He previously served two terms as Alabama State Treasurer and two terms as a member of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1
On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.
Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.
In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.
Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.
In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.
Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.
In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.
According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.
And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.
The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protecting “every” citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the “every” citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?
Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.
The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.
Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.
Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.
Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.
Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution
The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.
A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.
The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.
In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.
While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.
Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.
Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.
On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.
Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color
The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.
This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.
Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.
These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.
We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.
Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.
In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.
We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.
In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.
Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.
Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”
Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.
Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing
The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.
Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.
To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.
Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.
There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.
The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.
State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.
We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.
In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.
The state is depending on it.