Durham's Civil Rights Heritage

George Wallace campaigns in Durham
Oct. 24, 2013 @ 10:48 AM

George C. Wallace, a former segregationist governor of Alabama, ran as an independent candidate for president in 1968.

Well known for his symbolic stand "in the schoolhouse doorway" to oppose integration at the University of Alabama, he entered the presidential race claiming to offer voters "a real choice," and that there was "not a dime's worth of difference" between the two major parties. Arriving at the Raleigh-Durham Airport on Oct. 24, Wallace said, "Both national parties can't understand a redneck running for president. They have looked down their noses at us."

Later that day, he spoke to an estimated crowd of 15,000 in the parking lot of Durham's police headquarters (the present city hall location). He pledged to "return some sanity" to the federal government, criticized "federal guideline writers," and claimed to have the support of Southern union leaders -- though the national AFL-CIO was attempting to discredit his claim to be a friend to organized labor.

Wallace received a mixed reception. While one local newspaper reported there were "oceans" of "Wallace for President" placards in the crowd, other demonstrators carried signs such as "Nobody Wins with Wallace" and "Hitler Was to Jews What Wallace Is to Blacks." At one point, a brawl broke out between Wallace supporters and opponents. According to one report, it was set off when a man wearing a Wallace campaign hat released a tear-gas-like chemical toward a group of black and white counter-demonstrators. Three people, including one police officer, received minor injuries before the fight was broken up.

On election day, Wallace received 31 percent of North Carolina's popular vote. Republican Richard Nixon won the state with 40 percent, and Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey came in third with 29 percent.