George Wallace and the American Independent Party, 1968

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In this footage from a November 4, 1968 rally in Atlanta (one day before the 1968 presidential election), candidate George Wallace responds to protestors, discusses the two-party perception of Southern “redneck” voters, and promises a shift away from federal intervention and towards state control of public education. Courtesy of WSB-TV, Walter J. Brown Media Archives via Digital Library of Georgia.

Alabama governor George Wallace rose to national prominence in 1963 for his strong stance against the integration of public schools in Alabama. In his inaugural speech for his first term as governor in January 1963, Wallace famously advocated for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Television viewers around the world saw Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” later that year, in which he would attempt to halt the enrollment of black students Vivian Malone and James Hood at the University of Alabama. Wallace sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1964, 1972, and 1976, but ran as a third-party candidate for the American Independent Party in 1968 with the most success.

In 1968, Wallace ran on a platform similar to that of the Dixiecrats twenty years earlier that rejected the outside intervention of the federal government on civil rights issues like education while also capitalizing on reactive white fear and racism stirred up by recent civil rights gains like the Voting Rights Act, school integration, and anti-discrimination laws. In his campaign, Wallace appealed to white working and middle-class voters who feared for the safety of their jobs, neighborhoods, and schools, by positioning the oppressed and overlooked “redneck” as the new outsider displaced by federal law and black activism. In the general election, Wallace won five states—Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas—and their 46 electoral votes. More surprisingly, he won 13.5 % of the popular vote or almost 10 million votes that reflected widespread support from across the country.