Milwaukee for Wallace: Rare Photos Document Gov. George Wallace’s Last Wisconsin Campaign

Nov. 14, 2016
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Wallace Supporters canvass at Southgate Mall during the 1976 Wisconsin Democratic Presidential Primary Campaign.

Continuing with the “showing off stuff I found on eBay” trend from my last post, I’d like to turn to a collection of old Milwaukee snapshots I picked up earlier this year. [note – I’d planned to include some kind of election-related joke at this point in the post (I write all these ahead of time), but sadly, things did not turn out the way it seemed they would. So, jokes aside, here are some images of working-class white folks who became very taken with an openly racist presidential candidate who fed their sense of having been overlooked and ignored in a society that was changing in ways they couldn’t quite tolerate or understand.] 

The set of pictures, housed (of course) in a red, white, and blue album, chronicle Alabama Governor George Wallace’s campaign in the 1976 Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary. I’ve written before about Wallace in Wisconsin, but his surprise 1964 showing in the state (particularly on Milwaukee’s South Side), was merely a prelude. He returned in 1972 to again seek the Democratic nomination and placed a surprise second in Wisconsin. He would go on to win the Tennessee and North Carolina primaries before he was shot in the parking lot of a Maryland mall (he won the Maryland primary the following day) by Milwaukeean Arthur Bremer. Overall, Wallace claimed 23.5% of the primary vote. 

In 1976, Wallace made his final presidential run. For the now-wheelchair-confined Wallace, ’76 was an even longer shot than his previous campaigns, but he still had pockets of very dedicated supporters all across the nation. Once again, Milwaukee’s South Side was a center of local Wallace support. An organizational rally for Citizens for Wallace was held at Serb Hall on January 25 and, less than a month later, the group opened the official Wallace Headquarters at 3226 West National Avenue. The small storefront building still stands today.

A Wallace supporter promotes a Citizens for Wallace rally early on the Wisconsin primary campaign.

The Wallace office shortly after it opened.

A group of supporters wave to the camera as they are bused to a Wallace event at Serb Hall. Early polls in Wisconsin suggested that the Alabama governor might have enough to support to pull off an upset victory.

Wallace’s first campaign appearance in Wisconsin was also at Serb Hall on March 26. About 500 people packed the room to hear Wallace rail against school busing and desegregation orders. He also hit his fellow candidates for being “soft on crime.” When he growled that his stance on crime was to “put ‘em in the electric chair,” he received one of the loudest ovations of the evening.

Wallace and his second wife, Cornelia, who was nicknamed “the Jackie Kennedy of Rednecks,” arriving at Serb Hall. She had thrown herself over Wallace during the 1972 assassination attempt, but the couple broke up in a bitter divorce in 1978.

Supporters gathered outside Serb Hall on March 26. During his speech, Wallace said “[On] the South Side, I feel very much at home… I still speak the language of the South Side.”

Wallace speaking at Serb Hall, guarded by police.

Wallace speaking at the Hoffman House dining room at the Ramada Inn in Janesville on April 1. Note the plates of glass surrounding the lectern. Still on high guard after the shooting that paralyzed him, Wallace used a bulletproof shield during each of public speeches in the state.

On March 28, Wallace stopped at the National Avenue office to greet volunteers. About 100 supporters turned out, giving the Governor a rousing reception and creating quite a scene in the usually sedate Silver City neighborhood. “I feel very good and I want you to feel good,” Wallace told the crowd in brief speech. “George Wallace speaks for a majority of the people of this state. Name me another candidate who does!”

The crowd outside Wallace HQ on the afternoon the candidate visited. The office presented Wallace with a large trophy inscribed, “Gov. George Wallace, “Our President for Life,” Champion of the People, God Be With You Always!”

Wallace arrives as the National Avenue office. Just days later, while in Madison, Wallace was met by a group of about ten protestors, who wore paper Arthur Bremer masks and pushed empty wheelchairs and catcalled the Governor with references to his disability.

Wallace signs autographs for supporters. On April 6, Wallace polled just over 92,000 votes in Wisconsin – finishing behind Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona and Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia. Wallace’s 12.5% of the vote was his lowest share of any state he had yet contested in the campaign. Wallace ended up tallying just under 13% of overall primary vote.


Would white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan pose the same threat they do now if a mainstream Republican were president instead of Donald Trump?

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