After graduate school I came to Georgia and spent 12 years teaching at Southern Technical Institute in Marietta. Now after 29 years of college teaching and administration in Boston, I have returned "home." My wife and I have spent the last 2 years here in Roswell. My three children are all Georgians. All of my colleagues at Southern Tech and all of our friends and neighbors here both then and now have made us feel welcome. that was not always the case in Massachusetts. Despite all of our years there we were always the family that was "from away."
In my 12 years at Southern Tech I acquired some words and phrases that clearly identified me to others as southern. Once I was at a conference in New Hampshire and it was late in the day and I was tired and I lapsed into my southern phrasing. A colleague noticed and asked me why I was speaking like that. She noted, "You are from New York. You're not southern are you?" I heard myself blurt out, "only in my heart." A Wentworth colleague told me he knew that I was "all in" at my new post when he heard me say, "That dog won't hunt." Several years ago I found a survey where people were asked to identify the section of the country that was most unlike the other sections. The answer was "the South."
What were some of the values that people associated with the South? In no particular hierarchy one could list: a regard for history and tradition, religion, patriotism, respect for the military, family, individualism and courtesy. When the military went to an all-volunteer basis pundits observed, that as long as there were sufficient numbers of Blacks and Southerners everything would be alright. Unfortunately, in the same vein on television programs when you wish to portray a character as ignorant or unintelligent the time-honored technique was and is give the character a southern accent.
After the recent completely unacceptable violence in Charlottesville a local clergyman noted the "dark days" when the ticket of George C. Wallace of Alabama and Marvin Griffin of Georgia gained 13% of the popular vote in the 1968 presidential election. But that's not the whole story.
Wallace first rode to hi victory to be governor of Alabama as an arch segregationist. In his inaugural address, Wallace proclaimed "Segregation forever." He attained national notoriety by is attempt to keep a black student from enrolling at the University of Alabama.
Wallace would run for president five times. In 1972 he was shot by publicity seeker, Arthur Bremer. The shooting left him paralyzed from the waist down and in constant daily pain until his death in 1998. One of the people who came to visit him in the hospital was Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. When asked how he could visit an arch segregationist, "Daddy" King replied "We know a lot about being shot in my family."
Wallace was elected governor for the fourth time in 1982. On the campaign trail he confronted his past. He apologized for his racism and asked blacks to forgive him. He said, "Time change. I was wrong. Those days are over and they ought to be over." I remember Dan Rather on the CBS Nightly News staring into the camera and marveling that George Wallace had won a fourth term as governor. Moreover, Wallace won becasue he received substantial support from the black voters. Wallace had pledged that it was his intention to "be the governor for all the people of Alabama." His final term saw a record number of black appointees named to state positions.
Times change and maybe people can too.