George Will Whitewashes Racism From Pro-Segregation Presidential Campaigns

George Will

In his Washington Post column, Fox News contributor George Will downplayed the explicitly racist, segregationist presidential campaigns of Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, referring to them as merely focused on the “burning issues” of “regional grievances relating to race” and “venting class and cultural resentments,” respectfully.

In the context of lauding Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian Party's candidate for governor in Virginia, Will made note of several third party candidates who ran at the national level, writing:

At the national level, the most potent third-party candidates have had vivid personalities and burning issues: Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, taming corporations; Strom Thurmond in 1948, asserting regional grievances relating to race; George Wallace in 1968, venting class and cultural resentments; Ross Perot in 1992, shrinking the federal deficit. Sarvis is more bemused than burning.

By describing the motivations behind Thurmond and Wallace's campaign in this manner, Will severely minimizes the racial animus at the heart of both campaigns.


Thurmond, at the time governor of South Carolina, ran for President in 1948 on an explicitly pro-segregation platform. Thurmond split from the Democratic Party after the party's convention approved a platform with a strong civil rights position, and was the candidate of the “States' Rights Democratic Party,” commonly known as the Dixiecrats.

The Dixiecrat platform called for “the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race” and declared that they “oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes.”

In one campaign speech, Thurmond told supporters that “there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”

Later elected a U.S. Senator as a Democrat, Thurmond still holds the record for the longest filibuster in U.S. history, speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He switched to the Republican Party in 1964 to support Sen. Barry Goldwater's run for president because Goldwater opposed federal civil rights legislation.


Gov. George Wallace of Alabama is probably best known for his 1963 inaugural speech where he declared “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” Several months later, Wallace stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama in opposition to federal efforts to integrate the school.

In 1968, Wallace ran for President on the American Independent Party ticket (he had run in 1964 on a pro-segregation platform within the Democratic primary). The American Independent Party platform expressed its explicit opposition to what it described as the “so-called Civil Rights Acts,” pledging to make “our best efforts to restore to state governments those powers which rightfully belong to the respective states, and which have been illegally and unlawfully seized by the Federal Government.”

In an interview for a PBS documentary, Wallace '68 staffer Tom Turnipseed explained that “race and being opposed to the civil rights movement and all it meant was the very heart and soul of the Wallace campaign. I mean, that's what it was all about.” According to his 1998 Washington Post obituary, Wallace's campaign “vilified blacks.”

Will has previously promoted Wallace as a candidate who gave “an aggrieved minority a voice.”