Sherry Sylvester

George Wallace, Bull Connor, Jefferson Davis & Me

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The outrage over President Joe Biden’s ridiculous comments in Georgia last month lingers. Condemning those who oppose a federal takeover of state elections as racist was not a gaff. He was reading from a speech, which means that both the president and his team believe that the strong majorities of Texans in both parties who oppose federalizing elections are choosing the side of white supremacist segregationists like former Alabama Governor George Wallace, notorious Birmingham Sheriff Bull Connor and even Jefferson Davis, over Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. We rarely get a clearer statement of how little the progressive left knows about the American people.

There’s no shortage of Democrats who go around saying their conservative opponents are racists. We hear it from the media all the time, but somehow, it was more appalling to hear it coming from the White House. For those who remember who Wallace and Connor were, this insult is unforgivable.

The civil rights battles of the 1960s changed America and impacted everyone who lived through them. They didn’t end racism or hate, but Wallace and Connor did not win. Instead, we Americans who lived during those times know that while the country is not perfect, it is profoundly better and more embracing of difference and diversity. Everyone has their own story. Here’s mine.

I attended segregated schools in Oklahoma until my last couple of years in high school. There were only a few black families in the very small town where I grew up and their children were bused to an integrated school in the next town, seven miles away. Ironically, it was a bigger and better school than the one in our town, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a stigma to being bused out. It was always an awkward discussion when my sister and I were playing with the African-American girls who lived near us as to why they didn’t go to our school. I recall them saying little and just looking away.

My parents supported keeping the schools segregated, but they didn’t march or protest. My father was the mayor of the tiny town where I grew up. He was a veteran of the Great Depression and World War II and taking it to the streets on any issue was not in his DNA. He didn’t like marches.

While Bull Connor, the fat, hate-filled Alabama sheriff, became a symbol for violent white supremacy in Birmingham, my school was integrated with little fanfare. The girls we played with had moved away and there was only one mixed race boy in town who attended.
He was several years younger than me and I don’t recall ever talking to him, but I know his time wasn’t easy. He was being raised by a single mother and there was lots of speculation about the identity of his father, who was presumably white.

He played football—though he was not a star—and I recall hearing some kids making jokes about his skin color in yearbook photos. But the jokers were viewed as ignorant by the cool kids. I never saw a teacher tolerate any bullying or mistreatment, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We still prayed a lot in public schools in those days and although the country and our town was bitterly divided over integration, we were never allowed to forget that meanness and hateful behavior are not Christian. Looking at old yearbooks, it appears he left town before he graduated.

I never heard my father echo George Wallace’s cry for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” but Wallace was a Democrat, like my father, and shared a hatred for the Northeast elites who were running the country. Wallace ran for president a number of times and I recall my Dad supporting him, at least for a while, in one of his bids. During those same years, Biden bragged about his friendship with Wallace and accepted an award from him in 1973. Wallace’s last run for the White House was in 1976, when my Dad was backing Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.

A few years later, Dad threw his support behind Jesse Jackson’s presidential effort, both in 1984 and 1988. Dad told me that Jackson was the only candidate who was speaking for working people. The Democrats should have listened to my Dad. Jackson came in second in the 1988 primary that Michael Dukakis won—and it was a disaster for them.

I recall pointing out to my Dad at the time that he’d gone from being a Wallace Democrat to being a Jackson Democrat, but he didn’t think it was particularly notable.

My father detested Reagan and the Bushes. He voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. I had no luck convincing him to vote Republican either time and, had he lived, I am confident there is nothing I could have said that would have kept him from voting for Obama and celebrating the election of the first Black president.

Seeing this change up close in my family—and in the communities where I lived—makes me very skeptical of concepts like “systematic racism” and “structural discrimination” that comprise the phony premise of critical race theory.

My father was not unique. Most Americans—not all—have changed their thinking about race and so many other things, since the 1960s. Do hate and racism still exist? Absolutely. But is half of the country racist as Biden implied? No.

Perhaps the most heinous accusation Biden made in Georgia was suggesting those who disagree with him on a federal election takeover are on the side of Jefferson Davis, the traitorous former president of the rebellious confederate states who led the charge to take up arms in revolt against the union. What a hateful and irresponsible thing to say.

My Dad did not know Jefferson Davis, of course, but like many who fought in World War II, he was the grandson of a Civil War veteran. His grandfather fought on the Union side, coming in with the troops behind Sherman for the occupation of Atlanta. The Civil War was not distant history for him, it was family history.

Biden’s “Wallace, Connor, Davis” statement may be a fatal blow to Democrats because everybody has stories like this. People like me remember what the country was like in the 1960s, compared to what America is like today. We know what “voter suppression” looks like and we know that it is not requiring a photo ID to vote or a signature on your mail-in ballot, actions that have broad support among all Americans, including Latinos and African Americans.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Biden’s federal election takeover bill failed. It is hard to know why Biden pushed so hard for legislation that so many Americans oppose. The President’s sanctimonious preaching about Jim Crow 2.0, suggesting that nothing has changed in America since the civil rights movement or even the Civil War destroyed whatever shred of credibility he had left. Most Americans already know Biden has to go, but whoever wrote that speech for him should be fired now. 

For Texas,
Sherry