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Yet the note with its accompanying tape--most of which was inaudible anyway--failed to produce the desired effect. If anything, it strengthened King's marriage and his resolve to carry on in the face of what he and Coretta both now realized was a full-scale FBI effort to ruin him. Wallace had been traveling around the country almost as frenetically as King had, drumming up his blue-collar base from coast to coast. The nation's best reporters and political phrasemakers had a field day covering the Alabama demagogue's outrageous but unfailingly colorful appearances.
Wallace was the Cicero of the Cabdriver, 90 it was said. He was so full of bile that if he "bit himself 91 he would die of blood poisoning. People loved his bumptious sense of humor, the rockabilly growl in his voice, the way he shook his fist in defiance when he really got worked up. Wallace, a former Golden Gloves boxer, was battling forces no one else seemed to have the gumption to take on. At rallies around the country, he had a litany of phrases that he used over and over, lines calculated to get a lusty guffaw out of the crowds.
When he won the White House, Wallace said, he was going to take all those "bearded beatnik bureaucrats" and hurl them and their briefcases into the Potomac. He railed against "liberal sob sisters" and "bleeding-heart sociologists.
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Though he was careful to moderate his most incendiary racial rhetoric, Wallace continued to preach states' rights and the separation of the races and said the recent gains of the civil rights movement should be overturned. At friendlier venues he went so far as to argue that blacks should not be able to serve on juries, noting that "the nigra would still be in Africa 94 in the brush if the white people of this country had not raised their standards.
Whole heap of folks in this country feel the same way I do. Race is what's gonna win this thing for me. In his inaugural speech, delivered in Montgomery on the gold star marking the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy, Wallace gave a stem-winder that was written by the speechwriter Asa Carter, a well-known Klansman and anti-Semite. If those words put Wallace on the national radar screen, his actions at the University of Alabama a few months later placed him on a historic collision course with the federal government.
On June 11, , flanked by state troopers, Wallace physically prevented two black students from entering an auditorium at the University of Alabama to register for classes. His "stand in the schoolhouse door" did not work, of course--two federal marshals dispatched by the Kennedy Justice Department immediately ordered him to stand down. But in the process Wallace had made himself the civil rights movement's most vocal and visible bogeyman. Wallace had called the Nobel laureate everything but the Antichrist, but in an odd way Wallace needed King, for the governor understood that great political struggles can exist in the abstract for only so long before cooking down to the personal.
Certainly Wallace's slights and epithets cannot be faulted for their lack of energy or brio. He called King "a communist agitator," "a phony," and "a fraud, marching and going to jail 96 and all that, and just living high on the hog. Leaders in Washington, the governor said, "now want us to surrender the state to him and his group of pro-Communists. On numerous occasions, King had lobbed invectives of his own. In a interview with Dan Rather, King called Wallace "perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today I am not sure that he believes all the poison he preaches, but he is artful enough to convince others that he does.
Segregation was now on its deathbed, King pronounced; the only thing uncertain about it was "how costly Wallace 99 will make the funeral. Still, through all his entanglements with Wallace during the s, King had to confess a perverse admiration for his talents on the stump. Now, incredibly, this neo-Confederate was running for president--a development that King found immensely troubling. King remarked to a television reporter that he thought Wallace's candidacy "will only strengthen the forces of reaction in the country and incite bigotry, hatred, and even violence.
I think it will arouse many evil forces in our nation. Even so, Wallace's bid was already starting to show a vitality that America had not seen in an independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose campaign of Pundits were projecting that even though he had no hope of winning, Wallace could potentially spoil the election, forcing the House of Representatives to decide the president for the first time since National polls indicated that his appeal was steadily climbing, from 9 to 12 to 14 percent of the American electorate.
[Add Jenna’s Introduction]
In November, he began an intense effort to get his name on the state's unusually restrictive ballot for the June primaries. California election law required a new candidate from any unregistered party to gather sixty-six thousand signatures. It was probably the most onerous ballot requirement in the country, but Wallace's advisers felt that California, as the nation's most populous and influential state, represented the first crucial test of his nascent campaign.
So Wallace moved most of his staff to Los Angeles, and hundreds of devoted volunteers from Alabama soon followed him. In newly opened American Independent Party offices across California, drawling armies of phone workers, fresh from Mobile and Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, clogged the lines with their solicitation calls.
Working in an extracurricular capacity, Alabama legislators, commissioners, clerks, and other government employees made the trek out to the West Coast to moonlight for the cause. Meanwhile, Wallace himself crisscrossed California, speaking at hundreds of rallies and fund-raisers, guarded by swaggering hosses who were usually out-of-uniform Alabama state troopers.
What made the Montgomery decampment to Los Angeles all the more surreal was that "Governor" Wallace was not the duly constituted governor of Alabama. Because of a strict anti-succession statute, Wallace had been forced to step down, despite immense popularity, when his first gubernatorial term ended in He resented this brusque termination of his tenure, for he felt he needed political viability in Alabama as a base from which to pursue his national ambitions.
Then, in a moment of craftiness, he realized that nothing in the Alabama statutes prevented his wife from running for governor. So, in , First Lady Lurleen Wallace, a perfectly put-together, and widely beloved, traditional Southern woman with scarcely any interest in political life, ascended to the state's highest office--on paper, at least. George Wallace became officially known as the "First Gentleman of Alabama," but few people in Montgomery labored under any misunderstandings about who was actually running the state's affairs.
It was an unorthodox arrangement, to say the least, but Alabama voters had to hand it to their ever-resourceful governor for installing his own surrogate--and for pulling off what would later be called one of the most brazen acts of "political ventriloquism" in American history. Lurleen Wallace occasionally ventured out to California to campaign with her husband, but she was quite ill and unable to exert herself.
She had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, had undergone an operation to remove an egg-sized malignancy, and was receiving cobalt treatments at a hospital in Texas. She was slowly, surely withering away. Her doctors believed she had only a few months to live. George Wallace, in a fugue state of campaigning, carefully hid the seriousness of her illness from both his Alabama and his California publics--and kept to the hustings.
Galt, wearing a borrowed bow tie and a black tuxedo jacket, stood in a softly lit room that was a mock-up of a cocktail lounge, with minimalist modern furniture and plush wall-to-wall carpeting that muffled the steady clinking of tumblers and collins glasses behind the test bar. It was here, under the direction of a primly mustachioed man named Tomas Reyes Lau, that Galt and his fellow pupils had learned the mixologist's trade, assaying the chemical mysteries of Rusty Nails, mai tais, Harvey Wallbangers, sloe gin fizzes, and Singapore slings.
Lau, an unctuous, precise man with a Latin American accent, was impressed with Galt and thought he had promise in the business. Lau had already succeeded in finding him a bartending job, but to Lau's surprise Galt turned it down.
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He planned to go out of town soon, he told Lau. I'll wait till I get back, then I can take a permanent job.
Now the cameraman was poised to snap the picture. Galt stood next to Lau, who fairly beamed with pride at his new graduate. Galt stared anxiously at the lens and concentrated on the photographer's movements. Though he had made failing attempts at proficiency behind a camera, and had almost obsessively taken Polaroid mug shots of himself while in Puerto Vallarta, he hated being photographed by others, hated the whole tedious ritual--the pointless lingering, the sense of momentary entrapment, the knowledge that his image would reside in another's hands.
Galt's posture grew rigid.
He fidgeted, tightened his lips, and cocked his head slightly. Then he did something strange: at the last possible moment, Galt closed his eyes and kept them mashed shut until he was sure the portrait was taken. He'd arrived in L. He eventually made a home at the St. Francis Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, in a drab room that cost eighty-five dollars a month.
There was a bar downstairs on the ground floor of the blond brick building, a smoky little joint called the Sultan Room, where he liked to while away the nights watching prizefights on the TV set or shooting pool on an old scuffed table while nursing sixty-cent drinks. When he got bored, he'd head out on the town, nosing his Mustang through the freeway traffic, listening to country-and-western songs on his car's push-button radio--he particularly liked Johnny Cash. He took comfort in knowing that if he ran into trouble, he still had his loaded "equalizer" hidden under the seat.
Over the past few months Galt had enjoyed his share of the considerable good life that Southern California had to offer single men of appetites in the go-go days of the late s--self-realization, alternative lifestyles, transcendence, casual sex, drugs.