Past fifty years brought memorable people, events

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 8, 2000

I have lost count of how many columns I have written during the past 50 years but one thing I am sure of-this is the last column I will write in this century.

That being so, it seems appropriate that in this last effort I do a little reminiscing. My look back will not be for the entire century-I'm not that old- but rather only for those 50 years I covered as a journalist.

What were the most memorable stories and personalities that I covered during the past five decades? A flood of memories come to mind.

Email newsletter signup

The dominant story and dominant personality from 1950 through 2000 intertwine-the Civil Rights movement and George C. Wallace.

It has often been said that television news made the civil rights movement and the civil rights movement made television news. Both were birthed at the same time, the mid and late 1950s, and each benefitted from the other.

To a degree the same could be said of the Civil Rights movement and George Wallace. Each fed and grew off the other. The more defiant was Wallace in opposing the movement, the stronger it became. And in reverse, those who felt threatened by the movement fervently embraced Wallace.

If civil rights and Wallace rank as the No. 1 story and the No. 1 personality, what and who else are in the running.

The biggest stories…from myvantage point…in chronological order:

The murder of Atty. Gen.-nominee Albert Patterson in Phenix City in 1954.

The Montgomery bus boycott in December, 1955, which ignited the civil rights movement.

Wallace's "Stand In The Door" at the University of Alabama in 1963.

Lurleen Wallace elected governor in May, 1966 and her tragic death of cancer in 1968.

Wallace's bid for President in 1968 where he polled more votes than any third party candidate in history.

Man propelled to the moon in 1969 by a made-in-Huntsville rocket.

Wallace crippled by would-be assassin in May, 1972 in Laurel, Maryland.

The incredible success of the University of Alabama football team during the long reign of Paul (Bear) Bryant as coach.

Political unknown Fob James' election as governor in 1978 defeating the "3-B's"-Bill Baxley, Albert Brewer and Jere Beasley. It still ranks as perhaps one of the biggest upsets in Alabama political history.

The Baxley-Graddick debacle in 1986 which led to the election of Guy Hunt, the first Republican governor since the Reconstruction.

Gov. Hunt's removal from office during his second term following his felony conviction.

The emergence of the Republican Party as a major factor in Alabama politics in the l990s.

And lastly…and very recently…the crushing and unexpected rejection of a state lottery by the voters after a months-long, multi-million dollar campaign led by Gov. Siegelman.

As would be expected, the most memorable personalities in many instances were those who played major roles in those stories-Wallace, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Werner Von Braun, Coach Bryant, Lurleen Wallace not to mention such giants as Sen. Lister Hill, Helen Keller, Judge Frank M. Johnson and Justice Hugo Black.

It was quite a half-century, an era of controversy and incredible change for the state of Alabama. I feel fortunate that with my press card I had a front row seat for most of those events.

Happy Y2K!