MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Public Service Commissioner George C. Wallace Jr., whose father famously vowed to defend racial segregation "forever" in a 1963 speech from the steps of the state Capitol, gave the welcoming speech to the national delegates of a white supremacist hate group meeting here on Friday.
The younger Wallace, whose résumé boasts of an NAACP Freedom Award, opened up the first day of the annual national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group whose website has referred to blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity."
More than 100 delegates heard his speech, which went without any immediate coverage in the Alabama print and broadcast media.
There is little debate that the CCC is a racist group. In fact, the head of the Republican National Committee in 1999 warned party members to avoid the group after the Southern Poverty Law Center published an exposé detailing its racism.
The CCC was created from the mailing lists of the old White Citizens Councils, which were set up in the 1950s and 1960s to resist efforts to desegregate Southern schools, and which Thurgood Marshall once described as "the uptown Klan." Recently, it has embraced Holocaust deniers and published anti-Semitic articles on its website.
In the audience listening to Wallace were a number of leading white supremacists. They included Don Black, former Alabama grand dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and proprietor of Stormfront.org, the most influential hate site on the internet; Jamie Kelso, right-hand man and Louisiana roommate of former Klan leader David Duke; Jared Taylor, editor of the neo-eugenicist American Renaissance magazine; Ed Fields, an aging white supremacist leader from Georgia; Alabama CCC leader Leonard "Flagpole" Wilson, who got his name shouting "Keep Bama white!" from atop a flagpole during University of Alabama race riots in 1956; and the CCC's national leader, St. Louis personal injury lawyer Gordon Baum.
"It was a convention of haters," said Mark Potok, director of the Center's Intelligence Project, which monitors hate groups. "For a leading politician to lend this group credibility is a true disgrace."
On the Saturday following the convention, about 50 of the CCC supporters — including Black, Kelso and Baum — protested at the Center's office.
Wallace could not immediately be reached for comment. Later, he told The Associated Press, "There is nothing hateful about those people I've seen." He said he welcomed the delegates and spoke about his family and conservative values.
This was not Wallace's first flirtation with the CCC, a group that has grown more openly radical and racist in recent years. Wallace, who was Alabama state treasurer between 1986 and 1994 and was elected to the Public Service Commission in 1998, gave speeches to the CCC once in 1998 and twice during 1999.
Also speaking at the most recent convention was John Eidsmoe, a constitutional law professor at Montgomery's Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. Eidsmoe is a close friend and one-time legal adviser to Roy Moore, the Alabama chief justice removed from his post for defying federal court orders to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Supreme Court rotunda. Like Moore, Eidsmoe has suggested that the government "may not act contrary to God's laws."
The elder Wallace, who was governor of Alabama three times in the 1960s and 1970s, was famous for his resistance to desegregation, and he ran for president four times on a racist platform. But after his final defeat, Wallace came home to Alabama and sought to reconcile with civil rights leaders and others whom he had pilloried for most of his political life.
In 1982, he was elected governor once more — this time with most black Alabamans behind him. It was never clear whether it was his conscience or political expediency that was behind this transformation.