In an earlier post “Roy Moore vs James Madison,” I examined Moore’s stated belief that his God’s commandments (as he sees them) are to be followed by all of us. He says the United States should be a “Christian” nation and in my earlier blog I compared Moore’s View to that of James Madison, principle author of the First Amendment to the U S Constitution
Madison wrote (and the other “Founders” ratified) a different view. Although they were Christians, their (ours) First Amendment is clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” which means Government can not tell you how to worship or stop you from worshiping (or not at all) as you see fit. Which means Roy Moore cannot enact his personal belief into law which he fervently hopes to do.
Twice Moore as Alabama’s Chief Justice refused to obey the order of the Untied States Supreme Court because he said his God’s commandments disagreed. Twice he was removed as Chief Justice.
And now he is the favorite to win the special election for the U S Senate to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.
But this blog is not really about Roy Moore. Or the new accusation that he engaged in sexual mis-conduct with a fourteen your old many years ago.
I want to talk today about the people of Alabama, only a tiny few of whom I know individually but by their actions and stated views at the ballot box and elsewhere, I believe I know collectively.
According to the latest U S Census Bureau figures, 68% of the population is white, 26% is black, 3% are Hispanics, the rest of other or mixed races.
According to the Pew Foundation, of the White population, 63% say they are protestants, 7%, roman catholic. And of the White population , 68% say they are Republicans or leaning toward Republicans.
These are the people of Alabama who support Roy Moore: White, Protestant, Republicans. Well, you say, “duh!” Yes, I know, you knew that. But in what follows I want to make it absolutely clear which people of Alabama I’m talking about, certainly not all.
I’m talking about people who are basically racists (still fighting for the right to enslave or at least dominate black people), I’m talking about people who do not respect U S law if they disagree with it and believe they can ignore or override it (as Roy Moore believes). I’m talking about people who profess to be Christians but who do not follow Christ’s teachings as set forth in the Bible (read the Sermon on the Mount for starters).
In the late 1950s, following the Supreme Court decision de-segregating the public schools, driving the highways of Alabama and other deep South States the most common roadside sign was not “Eat at Joe’s” but “Impeach Earl Warren,” the Chief Justice of the U S Supreme Court who had put together the unanimous decision that separate education was not equal and therefore unconstitutional and must be changed. I’m talking about the Alabama white people who fought this decision “tooth and nail.”
When the Civil Rights protests began in the early 1960s, and Birmingham Police commissioner “Bull” Conner turned his dogs, water canon and clubs on civil rights marchers, the white people of Alabama I’m talking about were on his side.
When Governor George Corley Wallace decreed “Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever” in his Inaugural address, then stood in the doorway of the University in a symbolic effort to prevent the registration of black students, the white people of Alabama I’m talking about cheered.
When a Montgomery church bombing killed four little black girls, when Alabama state troopers beat and clubbed marchers on the Edmund Pettis bridge, when civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo was shot dead returning from the Montgomery airport, the White people of Alabama I’m talking about didn’t rise in protest but stood aside.
When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which overturned racial segregation in public accommodations and other important areas of public life, the Alabama white people I’m talking about refused to obey it unless forced to by the forces of national authority.
Also, to show their displeasure at Lyndon Johnson and other national Democrats who had sponsored that act, the White people of Alabama I’m talking about changed their party affiliation to Republican and in the 1964 election joined four other Southern States and Arizona in voting for the Republican presidential nominee Senator Barry Goldwater (who had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act).
These are the people of Alabama I’m talking about, the people who now will vote for Roy Moore in the special election for the Senate Seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.
Is there no hope for these people?
I fear not.
They learned their racism from their parents at an early age (who had learned theirs from their parents) accepted their parents marriage of the Christian religion to racism (never mind Christ’s view that “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”) and remain entrenched in their defiance of the Constitution, the law and the plain language of Christ’s teachings in the Christian bible.
But is there hope for Alabama and its people in the future?
The flow of history and the movement of the times are against the racists, against the false religionist prophets and for an enlightenment and nobility of the human spirit. And that is happening even in Alabama.
The black men who began it were led by Ministers Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King, Jr. And the white men who are carrying it forward were led by a courageous Alabama native, Federal District Judge Frank Johnson.
“In 1956, Judge Johnson ruled in favor of Rosa Parks, striking down the “blacks in the back of the bus” law of the city of Montgomery, Alabama, as unconstitutional….In March 1965, Judge Johnson ruled that activists had the right to undertake the Selma to Montgomery March as a means to petition the government, overturning Governor George Wallace‘s prohibition of the march as contrary to public safety.”
But the influential white Alabama man who later took up the fight for change, believe it or not , was none other than Governor George Corley Wallace. (1)
Wikipedia writes it this way:
“In the late 1970s, Wallace announced that he was a born-again Christian and apologized to black civil rights leaders for his past actions as a segregationist. He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he realized he needed to seek love and forgiveness. In 1979, Wallace said of his stand in the schoolhouse door: “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” He publicly asked for forgiveness from African Americans.”
In 1982, Wallace ran for re-election for the last time. He narrowly won re-nomination and narrowly won re-election. He prevailed with the help of a large number of African American votes.
And Wikipedia then writes: “During Wallace’s final term as governor (1983–1987) he made a record number of black appointments to state positions, including, for the first time, two black people as members in the same cabinet.”
Did Wallace have a true conversion or shrewdly read the voting registration numbers and realized he might win only by appealing for African American votes? We would like to think it was the former but we’ll take the result any way we can get it. In any event, Alabama is changing because of the voting demographics.
Alabama is also changing because of education. Not too many years ago, it ranked 49th in the nation when it came to educating its young people. Today, it has risen to 30th. Education is a key to reducing racism. Unfortunately, the rate of increase in college graduates has not kept pace but both State and private programs are now in place with the prospect for improvement.
But education includes not only formal studies but personal exposure to the world around us, to other peoples, other religions, other cultures, other ideas and that is occurring. I don’t have exact figures but it is clear than young Alabamians are traveling the Nation and the World in increasing numbers. As elsewhere in the South, the next generation is seeing more of the outside. And thinking about what they see.
So, what will happen on election day this December 12th in Alabama? The forces of change vs the forces of white racism? We would like to think that the Democrat Doug Jones will prevail over Roy Moore but its a long-odds bet.
The white people of Alabama I’ve been talking about will change but it may take more time, more hurt and the inexorable working of the life expectancy actuarial tables.
And above all, the emergence of young educated men and women.
(1) In 1968, my camera man Charlie Jones and I covered a rally for presidential candidate George Wallace in rural Utah Country, Alabama. After Wallace spoke, people lined up to shake his hand. Jones filmed a few doing that, then turned off his camera. Suddenly, he said to me “look who’s coming in the line to shake Wallace’s hand?”
It was Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of one of the leading groups of the Ku Klux Klan. Jones turned on his camera and when Shelton stuck out his hand, Wallace took it then froze – he was trying to soften his segregation image nationally and here ABC News was filming him shaking hands with the Klan’s Grand Wizard!
Wallace turned from the line and spoke to his Alabama State troopers. One of them quickly came over and demanded we give up the film. For about a nano-second I told him we wouldn’t turn it over, arguing the 1st amendment’s freedom of the press before the trooper stripped the camera from Jones’ shoulder, opened the magazine cover and shredded the film.
Wallace’s fans weren’t sure what was happening but they were clearly sure which side of any disagreement with ABC News they were on. Jones and I picked up our gear and left the scene hurriedly.
In 1996, backstage at a rally in Alabama for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole which I was covering, I encountered Wallace. He brought up the subject and said he was sorry he had ordered my film destroyed. He asked me to forgive him.
He sounded sincere. I told him I appreciated his apology and bore him no lasting grudge.
It was somewhat emotional for me thinking of the man once so cock sure of his segregationist views, willing to hurt black people, so powerful back then who had ordered the seizing of our film, now looking at him in the wheelchair a would-be assassin’s bullet had doomed him to sit in since 1972.
A frail, sick man who begged forgiveness from the likes of me.
Two years later, he died.