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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

Civil Rights Movement Unit
Lesson 2: The Opinions of the Public

1. Background information for teachers:

George Corley Wallace was elected Governor of Alabama in the November elections of 1962. Blaming an earlier, 1958 defeat for the same office on his failure to exploit the racial fears of white voters, Wallace based his successful 1962 campaign on pledges to resist the federal government's efforts to force integration upon Alabama.

 

Scheduled to take office in January of 1963, Wallace became the focal point for both those who supported and opposed integration during a period of tremendous racial turmoil and violence. Justifying his segregationist stance on the need to preserve "states' rights" in the face of federal tyranny, Governor Wallace's pronouncements like "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" in his first inaugural address and his actions like the symbolic "stand in the schoolhouse door" to block integration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in June of 1963 tended to fuel the flames of racial discord and brought the critical eyes of the rest of the world down on Alabama.

 

George Wallace would go on to run startlingly strong campaigns for president of the U.S. in 1964, 1968 and 1972, and was elected to the Alabama Governor's office again in 1970, 1974 and 1982. The documents in this lesson are letters sent to Wallace right after his election in 1962 and in 1963 durring the time of the stand in the school house door and Birmingham demonstrations. They represent the divergent views of Alabamians on these important issues and the response of the Governor to his constituents.

 

2. Learning objectives:
Upon completion of this activity, students should be able to:
    1. Discuss the importance of America's constitutional right to free speech.
    2. Discuss the difficulty of dealing with public opinion as an elected official.
    3. Identify the importance of public discussion and the election process.
    4. Identify some of the key issues facing Governor Wallace in 1962-1963 and the divergent opinions of Alabama citizens on these issues.

 

3. Suggested activity:
    1. Provide each student with copies of Documents 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

     

    2. Allow the students to discuss the similarities and the differences found in the opinions voiced in the letters. Be sure that the students classify the letters as individuals, groups, businesses, organizations, etc. (Point out the handwritten comment on the top of the letter from the Tuskegee Institute Young Democrats Club: "Do Not Reply.")

     

    3. Ask each student to determine the point of view of the author of each letter.

     

    4. Ask students the following questions:
      a. How would you feel about re-electing an official who would not reply to a letter written to him/her by you?
      b. Is an election a reflection of public opinion? Why or why not?
      c. What can an elected official do to communicate his/her concern for his/her constituents?

    5. Students should choose one letter and write a response to it as if they were the governor of Alabama.

 

DOCUMENTS:

Document 1. "Pine Grove Methodist Church letter, 11/04/62," Alabama Governor George Wallace Adminstrative files, SG12653, folder 1. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2. "Central Methodist Church letter, 11/16/62," Alabama Governor George Wallace Adminsitrative files, SG12653, folder 2. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 3. "Lucian Lentz letter, 11/17/62," Alabama Governor George Wallace Adminsitrative files, SG12653, folder 1. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 4."Tuskegee Institute Young Democrats Club letter, 10/--/63," Alabama Governor George Wallace Adminstrative files, SG12653, folder 4. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 5. "Northrop Laboratories letter, 05/23/65," Alabama Governor George Wallace Administrative files, SG12653, folder 3. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.