Yesterday NPR’s All Things Considered aired a devastating story on the 50th anniversary of then-Alabama Governor George Wallace’s speech, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” The heart of the story was the effect Wallace had on John Lewis, the civil rights leader who was born in Alabama and later became a Georgia congressman– when Wallace gave the speech, and when he regretted it in years to come.
Lewis on the speech:
I took it very personal. My governor, this elected official, was saying in effect, you are not welcome, you are not welcome… Words can be very powerful. Words can be dangerous. Governor Wallace never pulled a trigger. He never fired a gun. But in his speech, he created the environment for others to pull the trigger in the days, the weeks and months to come.
And Lewis on Wallace’s redemption:
A few short years later, after I got to Congress, Governor Wallace heard that I was going to be in Alabama. He said, John Lewis, will you come by, talk with me? And I remember the occasion so well. It was like someone confessing to their priest or to a minister. He wanted people to forgive him. He said, I never hated anybody. I never hated any black people. He said, Mr. Lewis, I’m sorry. And I said, well, Governor, I accept your apology.
Does it hurt me? No. In the end, I think George Wallace was one of the signs on this long journey towards the creation of a better America, toward the creation of a more perfect union. It was just one of the stumbling blocks along the way.
NPR host Audie Cornish delivered the last lines of the story:
In his later years, George Wallace reached out to civil rights activists and appeared in black churches to ask forgiveness. In his last election as governor of Alabama in 1982, he won with more than 90 percent of the black vote.
This story had one takeaway for me: The racists in Israeli politics must also be humbled– they will be humbled.