In 1963, Wallace, a onetime New Deal Democrat and somewhat-racial moderate, had taken office as governor of Alabama pledging massive resistance to federal integration: “I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Wallace was the consummate opportunist, adopting to whatever message suited the political moment. After running a straightfowardly economic populist campaign for governor in 1958 and losing to a hardcore segregationist, he reportedly told an aide: “I was out-n***ered, and I will never be out-n***ered again.”
In 1968, Wallace mounted a third-party campaign for the presidency. (In 1964, he had run as a Democrat.) It was no longer so much that white and black children will never go to school together. Instead, he clarified that the dictatorial federal government shouldn’t make them do so. And so “Stand up for Alabama” became “Stand up for America,” and a neo-Confederate white supremacist message adapted to an all-American jingoism.
“Everybody knew where he stood on race,” says historian Dan Carter. “He didn’t have to talk that much about race,” because he used euphemisms like “thug” instead. “Privately the n-word was about every other sentence, according to people who knew him well.”