Without a doubt, George Wallace is one of the South’s most revered and vilified politicians. He is also one of the most studied and perhaps least understood man of his time.
In his recently published book “Stand up for Alabama: Governor George Wallace” (University of Alabama Press; Tuscaloosa; 2007; 489 pages), UNC Pembroke historian Dr. Jeff Frederick seeks to shed new light on the controversial figure.
“What readers will get out of this book is a sense of how government really worked in the 1960s, 70s and 80s,” he said.
The book answers two questions, Dr. Frederick said: Why did Alabamians elect George Wallace so often over a 25 year period? And what was the effect of his administration on the state?
It is a political biography of George Wallace’s years as governor that explores paths less traveled and not as well understood, Dr. Frederick explains.
“I don’t cover his presidential candidacies or civil rights,” he said. “Those areas are well covered.”
George Wallace and his first wife, Lurleen, governed Alabama for 17 years, but there is a political and administrative legacy that is less well understood. Dr. Frederick examines his impact on politics, education, conservation, health and mental health, criminal justice and economic development.
Because other scholars have not peered into these areas, Wallace’s biography is incomplete, until now. Dr. Frederick provides insight into Wallace the shrewd politician, governor and man.
“Boys and girls growing up in the South had different kinds of dreams,” the historian said. “His was to be governor, not the quarterback at Alabama or an astronaut.
“The power was in the governor’s office, and he was an incredibly powerful governor,” he continued. “In 1982, he could not get elected without the Black vote, and the old segregationist won that vote. That is an indication of his political savvy.”
Wallace playing the pugnacious segregationist is the common image of the governor. Dr. Fredericks explains how the clever Wallace played his enemies.
“Wallace was a Golden Gloves boxer as a youth,” Dr. Frederick said. “He learned to counterpunch, a weapon he used with voters, political opponents, the press and interest groups when necessary.”
To have a book on Wallace published by the University of Alabama Press is a solid endorsement to begin with because as Dr. Frederick notes, “Feelings about the governor still run high in Alabama.”
In liner notes, other Wallace historians give strong endorsements.
- “I can’t imagine that anyone will ever be able to go very far beyond what Frederick has uncovered about the inner workings of the Wallace administration and their impact on the state of Alabama,” said Dan Carter, author of “The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics.”
- “.. meticulous research, keen analysis, and spirited writing. Everyone who has tried to make sense of Alabama politics will relish this book,” Wayne Flynt, author of “Alabama in the Twentieth Century.”
Dr. Frederick joined UNCP’s faculty in 2003. After growing up in Florida, he earned a Ph.D. from Auburn University.
“I went to Auburn because I wanted to write about George Wallace,” he said. “A month after I arrived, he died. I watched as ordinary Alabamans tried to make sense of his legacy.”
As a polarizing figure of the age, surely Dr. Frederick had feelings for the man going in and possibly different feelings about Wallace upon completion of the book.
“I didn’t go in as a fan of George Wallace, and I did not come out a fan,” he said. “I found more of everything – more to be critical of and more to praise him for.
“There are some good things to say about George Wallace the politician and the man,” he said. “He possessed a full personality.”
Dr. Frederick teaches a full range of courses at UNCP from entry level U.S. history to Civil Rights, the new South, the old South, American political history and sports and society. His interest in sports and culture will provide him with his next challenge.
“I’m interested in looking into what happened when the barriers broke down, and blacks and whites began playing sports together,” Dr. Frederick said. “I believe this is an area that has had a positive effect on race relations.”