DOES THE VICTORY of George Wallace in the Democratic gubernatorial runoff in Alabama Tuesday mean that the segregationist politics he symbolized for so long is with us again? The answer, emphatically, is no. Mr. Wallace's narrow victory was scarcely a ringing endorsement. Moreover, the former governor had some support from black voters. In fact, the margin by which he defeated his opponent was apparently smaller than the number of black votes he received. Many of those who remember Mr. Wallace's role in the 1960s find it incredible or sickening that black voters would support him. But we must suppose that these voters, like any others, are capable of determining their own best interests, just like those white voters who, in the same Alabama election, nominated a black state supreme court justice. The point of the civil rights movement was not to lead blacks into supporting only certain kinds of politicians, but to let blacks as well as whites make their own decisions.
And we should not forget that Mr. Wallace has explicitly repudiated his segregationist past. Whether you see him as a sincere man whose mind has genuinely been changed or simply as an opportunist who goes the way the wind is blowing, his abandonment of segregation tells us as surely as anything can that the politics of segregation is dead in the South. Many white southerners abandoned segregation unwillingly, but no significant number of them want it back. Mr. Wallace in November will face a strong Republican candidate, Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar, and Mayor Folmar may well win. You don't have to find either of these candidates especially attractive to concede that neither of them advocates or represents a return to the past that so many southerners seem, amazingly, already to have forgotten.