President Kennedy vs. Governor Wallace: Opposing Views on Segregation
Read statements on racial segregation from President John F. Kennedy and Alabama Governor George Wallace. Plus, questions for a class discussion.
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
In June 1963, the U.S. government filed suit against Alabama Governor George Wallace to prevent him from stopping the admission of two African American students to the University of Alabama. In Alabama, U.S. District Judge Seybourn Lynne ordered Wallace not to obstruct the students' admission. But Governor Wallace personally blocked the doorway of the university. President John F. Kennedy then placed Alabama's National Guard under federal authority and ordered it to force admission of the students.
What follows are President Kennedy's defense of his actions, and a statement by Governor Wallace supporting racial segregation. Read the statements and answer the questions at the bottom of this page.
"I ask every American to stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. When Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for white only. It ought to be possible for every American to enjoy the privileges of being Americans without regard to his race or his color, to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.
"Are we to say to the world — and much more importantly to each other — that this is the land of the free, except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens, except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettos, no master race, except with respect to Negroes?"
"I believe in segregation of the public-school system in Alabama. I believe that's the best school system for the people of Alabama. I think it is better for both races in Alabama. But I recommend no sort of school system for South Carolina or North Carolina. I recommend only that the people. . .decide the kind of school system they want, and if they want this kind of school system they should have it. But today we have bureaucrats from Washington that are determining where a child can go to school and who can teach that child and what books that child can use, and that is something that the American people are sick and tired of. . . . I believe in states' rights."
1. Assume that, as an assistant to Governor Wallace, you are asked to write a two- or three-sentence statement responding to President Kennedy. What points would you make in such a reply?
2. You are a new employee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. How would you answer Governor Wallace's argument that it is better for both races if they attend separate schools?
3. You are a lawyer representing an African American family. How would you answer Governor Wallace's demand that "the people [should] decide the kind of school system they want"?
4. You are a lawyer representing a white family who claim that their child's education is being disrupted by the presence of federal troops. They ask you to sue the federal government to remove the troops. Cite one or two points you would make in your argument.