My birthday and its significance in history: September 13

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 12.19.37 PMHistory Channel’s This Day in History made a feel a little better knowing that my birthday (September 13) held some more historical significance than just also being that One Direction member’s birthday.

This was the day that the Star-Spangled Banner was penned by Francis Scott Key (1814), the day that the Israel-Palestine peace accords was signed in 1993 and the day that George Wallace died in 1998.

Of course, the Israel-Palestine peace accords holds significant value in that it symbolizes the first major step towards peace between Israel & Palestine, but I’d like to focus on the last event, George Wallace’s death.

Wallace was born in Clio, Alabama and served as Alabama’s assistant state attorney and a judge for his early political ventures. Today, we know Wallace as the extremely racist governor of Alabama, who promised his white followers “segregation now! segregation tomorrow! segregation forever!” and attempted to block the enrollment of African-American students at the University of Alabama. But interestingly enough, Wallace’s first bid for the gubernatorial seat was endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He lost that bid by a wide margin, and four years later, returned again as an impassioned segregationist to win in a landslide.

To those who opposed segregation, and even to the general public today, Wallace was the embodiment of intolerance, racism and prejudice; to his supporters, a hero and protector. But  was it all a calculated move to cater towards the people of Alabama so that he could win their votes? And if so, why would he continue to later become the national spokesperson and advocate for segregation and resistance to the civil rights movement?

In 1972, Wallace was shot by Arthur Bremer while he was on his 3rd presidential campaign. Since that day, he became permanently paralyzed from the waist down and in another interesting turn of events, started contacting civil rights leaders he had so forcibly opposed in the past and asked for their forgiveness. Wallace later gained the political support of Alabama’s large African American electorate and once again was elected Alabama governor with their support. In the next four years, Wallace appointed more African American figures to political offices than any other person in Alabamian history. {I’m going off on a tangent here, since I may have been reading too many Foster chapters in one weekend, but Wallace’s life reminds me of the “Concerning Violence” chapter, in which the violence (Waller’s permanent paralysis after being shot)  symbolizes a psychological crisis and change in a person (almost like when the grandmother realizes her mistakes right before she is shot three times in the chest in O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”)}

On September 13, 1998 (I’ve always seen him as a distant figure of the past, but it’s interesting to realize that the Civil Rights movement has only been a few decades ago and that many of its figures are still alive or were alive when I was born…), Wallace passed away as a symbol for segregation after fading from the national stage. Before his death, he told the people of Alabama, “I’ve climbed my last political mountain, but there are still some personal hills I must climb. But for now, I must pass the rope and the pick to another climber and say climb on, climb on to higher heights. Climb on ’til you reach the very peak. Then look back and wave at me. I, too, will still be climbing.” I’m not at all condoning his ideas of segregation or his blatant racial prejudice during his time as governor or suggesting that he should be hailed as a hero of the Civil Rights movement, but I find it just a bit unfortunate that we were not able to learn about this during school, that Wallace — so stubborn, conservative and biased — later came to understand the importance of equality of all races, because we, as students, can certainly learn from that a few things about racism, human nature and of course, that nothing in history is ever just black or white. 

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