The crowd, again, was huge, an audience of a thousand that filled the southwest expanse of the Laurel Shopping Center’s parking lot. Old women squinted through thick-rimmed glasses against the bright May sky. Teenage boys in tight polyester shirts brushed their hair from their eyes. Thickset men with crew cuts shifted on their feet. All faced the stage erected in front of the Equitable Trust Co. in suburban Maryland, and many of them were angry.
A few protesters were furious at the politician who now climbed onto that stage — confounded by the genius with which he exposed and exploited Americans’ fears. But many more in the crowd adored him, angered not by the words he spoke but by the things he spoke against: court-ordered busing to integrate public schools, antiwar protesters, government bureaucrats, welfare grifters, news reporters, the alleged lawlessness of the political left.
Sporting the lacquered hair and broad, striped tie of a regional bank manager, he swept his arms outward, as if the forces of American disintegration were encroaching on his mostly White audience from somewhere just beyond Cherry Lane and Baltimore Avenue.
Applause rose over the jeers of protesters. It was the spring of 1972, and George Corley Wallace — the infamously segregationist governor of Alabama, now an upstart contender for the Democratic presidential nomination — had never been more popular.
Today Americans remember Wallace as a villain of the civil rights era — the governor who stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama in 1963 to block the arrival of Black students and coined the battle cry of White Southern backlash: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Yet just as important, historians say, were Wallace’s presidential campaigns, which helped unleash forces that shaped the country long after his White House aspirations were ended by what happened that day in Laurel: an assassination attempt that nearly killed him.
Among American politicians, Wallace would become, according to historian Dan T. Carter, “the most influential loser” of the 20th century. His enduring relevance, Carter said, lies in his discovery of the “underground stream” of modern American politics. Wallace tapped a current of grievance and barely muffled racism that would later propel the rise of another combative populist: Donald Trump.
What Richard Nixon muttered behind closed doors, Wallace shouted into a microphone, often to the tune of the live country music acts that accompanied his chaotic rallies. His speeches were disjointed, mixing references to Alabama, Vietnam and whatever state he was campaigning in. But they consistently invoked the victimhood of his audiences, assuring them their troubles arose from “silver-spooned brats” agitating for social justice, a Supreme Court whose civil rights rulings would “destroy constitutional government in the country” and inner-city criminals who “turned to rape and murder ’cause they didn’t get enough broccoli when they were little boys.”
The national political establishment dismissed Wallace as an avatar of the country’s Jim Crow past, a figure whose crude rhetoric would never be widely welcomed in the America of Joni Mitchell and the Voting Rights Act.
But when he ran as a Democrat in 1972, after two previous failed campaigns, a funny thing happened: Wallace started winning. Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland — with a series of victories or second-place finishes outside the Deep South, Wallace proved that a campaign inspired by racial animus and fear of change could succeed anywhere in the United States, said Rick Perlstein, author of books on the rise of modern conservatism. His rhetoric as a Democratic candidate would be refashioned into a highly effective weapon for five decades of Republican politicians — none more so than Trump.
Both Wallace and Trump lamented what they described as America’s vilification of the police. Both complained to audiences incessantly about their news coverage. Both insisted that they were not bigots and boasted of large bases of Black support that didn’t actually exist. Both threatened to make U.S. allies in Western Europe “respect” and repay the United States for billions in defense spending.
And both were famous for the violent energy of their political rallies, which were frequently marked by clashes between protesters and the candidates’ supporters. Trump said he would like to punch protesters in the face; Wallace threatened to run over them with the presidential limousine.
The fissures from which Wallace drew his energy — over race and crime, schools and families, visions of the country that looked to the future or to the past — still run through American society. And nowhere are they more evident than in the places that embraced the Alabama governor as a presidential candidate.
On the 50th anniversary of Wallace’s 1972 campaign, The Washington Post revisited three of those places: Evansville, Ind., Macomb County, Mich., and, finally, Laurel. All three were once Wallace country: overwhelmingly White, solidly Democratic, dominated by the concerns of a conservative working class. Over the decades, they have evolved in very different directions while preserving unmistakable marks of their old identity. Together, they offer a political, cultural and demographic snapshot of the United States in 2022, and the country’s struggle to resolve the divisions Wallace widened.
The danger of those divisions was not yet fully apparent when Wallace stepped off the stage at the Laurel Shopping Center on May 15, 1972, into a press of well-wishers. Among them was Matt Holt, a 14-year-old junior high school student from Laurel who had spent the afternoon handing out blue-and-orange “Wallace for President” bumper stickers.
Holt stood about 10 feet away from the presidential candidate, expecting to shake his hand. He did not expect what would soon unfold around him: screams, a stampede, panicked policemen running across a parking lot stained with blood and littered with campaign hats.
Holt watched as an arm rose above the crowd surrounding the governor and then descended in an arc, like the hand of a clock, followed by five cracking gunshots.
‘The Sunken Place’
Two weeks before Wallace arrived in Laurel, he campaigned in Evansville, Ind. Then a deeply segregated city of 139,000 that faced Kentucky across the Ohio River, Evansville was the site of Indiana’s first Ku Klux Klan chapter — and welcoming territory for Wallace, who had visited the city during his earlier presidential campaigns.
At his 1972 Evansville rally, Wallace insisted that he was not a racist, even as he relentlessly attacked efforts to spur integration and aid African Americans.
“I’m not against people, just this faceless, omnipotent bureaucracy which taxes and spends and gives away,” he told 2,200 supporters who crowded into Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 29, 1972. He assured a reporter that “there are many blacks who support me.”
That assertion was contradicted by the primary three days later. Wallace won in Vanderburgh County, which includes Evansville, and finished a strong second in Indiana. But he did not receive a single vote in a central precinct of the city’s heavily Black Ward 4, the Evansville Press reported.
Today, that ward is represented on the city council by Alex Burton, a 33-year-old administrator of a high school vocational program. Burton, who is Black and grew up in Evansville, has a master’s degree in public administration and calls himself a “history nerd,” volunteering some weekends at the city’s African American Museum.
But what he knows about Wallace does not come just from history books. Burton’s father was accosted by a White crowd yelling racial slurs after he protested one of the Alabama governor’s rallies.
And Burton knows there is much about Evansville that Wallace would still recognize.
The city remains abut 80 percent White, according to 2020 Census data. Just over 13 percent is Black. In a nation transformed by repeated waves of immigration, just 3 percent of Evansville’s residents are foreign-born. The most notable demographic change has been a 15 percent decline in the population of this once-booming river port; the neoclassical coliseum where Wallace spoke now hosts bingo nights in a downtown that is all but empty after 5 p.m.
Burton has little doubt that Wallace, were he to show up again in 2022, would draw overflow crowds. That belief is based on the overflow crowds he has seen for the man he considers Wallace’s unambiguous successor: Donald Trump.
George Wallace and Donald Trump sounded remarkably similar themes during their presidential campaigns.
On the protesters who often greeted them in public …
“Some of ’em lie down in front of my automobile, it’ll be the last thing they’ll ever wanna lie down in front of.”
— George Wallace
“You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. … I’d like to punch him in the face.”
— Donald Trump
… on the treatment of criminals and the sanctity of the police …
“The person who knocks you in the head is out of jail before you get to the hospital, and on Monday morning they will try the policeman. They won’t try the person who knocked you in the head. We’re going to have to start trying criminals on Monday instead of the policemen.”
— George Wallace
“I have to tell you, you know, the laws are so horrendously stacked against us, because for years and years, they’ve been made to protect the criminal. Totally made to protect the criminal. Not the officers.”
— Donald Trump
… and on America’s relationships with its European allies.
“I’m just talking about having some eyeball-to-eyeball talk with them, above the table, and make them respect us more. … We’re going to put back on the books some of those billions of dollars that you owe us after World War One and World War Two and we’re going to ask you to pay it back.”
— George Wallace
“I went to meet the leaders and the folks that run NATO, all the leaders of NATO, and they weren’t paying their bills, they were delinquent … and you could see those checkbooks coming out for billions of dollars. … They respect our country again. They didn’t respect our country.”
— Donald Trump
LEFT: Alabama governor George C. Wallace promises “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” during his 1963 inaugural address. (Bettmann/Bettmann Archive) RIGHT: President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., in 2018. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)
Southwest Indiana has, since the time of Wallace, undergone a dramatic political shift. A region once held by the Democratic Party in a vise grip has become overwhelmingly Republican. The White Democrats captivated by the angry populism of Wallace are now White Republicans captivated by the angry populism of Trump.
“You take what the 45th president has said — is saying,” Burton said of Trump, “I mean, you make that into the 21st century, and you have what George Wallace was in 1972.”
Trump has held multiple rallies in Evansville, appearing there on a jumbotron in April to introduce Kid Rock at a concert. In video remarks that went viral on TikTok, Trump told the wildly screaming audience they were “the true backbone of our great country” before Kid Rock launched into “We the People,” an obscenity-laden rap song that targets Anthony Fauci and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black lives mattered more than they once did in Evansville. The hyper-segregation that confined Black children to poorly funded schools and Black workers to the most menial factory jobs was legally abolished. But Burton and many other residents of his mostly African American Ward 4 often wonder how much has changed.
“Evansville, for me, feels like the Sunken Place,” said Jennifer Martin, a Black teacher attending a February community meeting, referring to the nightmarish underworld in Jordan Peele’s horror film “Get Out,” a metaphor for the country’s history of oppressing African Americans. “It’s almost like we — the people who live in my community — we are literally in a box.”
The conversation turned to Black residents’ frustrations with the city’s almost entirely White police force: the unsolved homicides, the seemingly undeserved traffic stops. In 2016, the city settled a lawsuit brought by a Black firefighter and youth pastor who said he was handcuffed and thrown to the ground after he waved at a White police officer while riding his bicycle.
Trump, like Wallace, appealed to Evansville residents by fiercely defending the police amid social upheaval. For Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding, complaints of systemic racism in law enforcement — and the unrest they fueled after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 — were among the reasons he left the Democratic Party weeks before the 2020 election.
“Where we have a systemic problem is Black-on-Black crime,” said Wedding, who is now a Republican. “I’ve had Black people in my community approach me and say, ‘Man, you’ve got to do something about this Black crime, these drug dealers and these young Black people that are getting involved in shootings and things like that.’”
It is not only on questions of public safety that Evansville sometimes seems to be reliving its past. The deed restrictions that once barred Black residents from the city’s better neighborhoods have long since been deemed illegal, yet many African Americans still live on the same streets in Southeast Evansville where their parents and grandparents lived, in small bungalows and apartment blocks connected by flood-prone roads built over the lowlands of the Ohio River.
Two years ago, the council, still controlled by Democrats, deadlocked on whether to award $400,000 to a Black-led nonprofit group that builds affordable housing in Burton’s ward. In a scathing Facebook post the next day, Burton called two of his White colleagues “Dixiecrats” — a reference to Southern Democrats who opposed integration in the 1940s.
One of those colleagues, Missy Mosby, said she was “furious” at the insult and rejected criticism that she had not adequately served Evansville’s Black community.
“My record speaks for itself on how I take care of everyone in my ward,” she said. “Doesn’t matter — Black, green, White, purple.”
But to Burton’s eye, only one of those colors has remained persistently marginalized, and he sees signs that conditions are becoming worse rather than better. There was the 2020 incident in which customers at an Evansville Olive Garden asked for a server who wasn’t Black. There were the proposed voting restrictions, inspired by Trump’s false claims of election fraud, that Republican lawmakers were pushing in Indianapolis.
Those proposals were on Burton’s mind as he sat in a pew at Grace and Peace Lutheran Church on a Sunday. As African American History Month drew to a close, he had been invited to give a talk on the ongoing struggle to protect Black voting rights.
He watched the introductory video that played at the front of the church, a montage of black-and-white images from the civil rights movement. Photographs showed Black activists in ties and dark dresses trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965. The day would end in shocking scenes of bloodshed, as state troopers with clubs and mounted vigilantes with whips terrorized the marchers.
Burton knew his history. And he knew the name of the man who oversaw that brutality from the Alabama governor’s mansion, the same man who would later appear before an adoring crowd in downtown Evansville: George Corley Wallace.
‘Tearing us apart’
Buoyed by his strong showing in Indiana, Wallace headed to another Midwestern state where his support ran deep: Michigan. On May 13, he was greeted by an audience of 3,000 in the Detroit suburbs.
He spoke to them beneath a light rain at Halmich Park in Macomb County — a vast plain of subdivisions, strip malls and auto plants that stretches north and east of Detroit and was a prime destination for White flight.
Now Wallace warned that court-ordered busing would take their children back to the same urban schools they had left behind. Unrest over the Vietnam War and civil rights would bring chaos to the quiet cul-de-sacs they had labored to afford. Unlike the Democratic Party officials mobilizing to halt his rise, he said, he was paying attention to those fears rather than dismissing them as bigotry.
“They are just trying to steal your vote,” he declared. “All they care about is what some newspaper editor says or what some pointy head on a campus thinks.”
Insam “Sue” Kattula was 3 years old when Wallace came to Halmich Park, but it wasn’t just her age that made her oblivious to his campaign. Her family had immigrated a few years earlier, part of a nascent community of Iraqi Christians whose size and political power would surge in the decades to come.
Straddling the gulf between the now-distant country where a young Saddam Hussein was rising to power and the new country where Kattula’s father was saving his wages at a Ford factory to open a convenience store, these new immigrants were as invisible to Wallace as he was to them.
But they would not be invisible to another thundering populist who came to town decades later.
Kattula was in her 11th year as an elected member of the Warren Consolidated Schools board when Trump visited Macomb County in early 2016 — the first of several rallies he would hold there over the next six years. From the beginning, commentators linked Trump’s fortunes in her politically fabled swing county, birthplace of the “Reagan Democrats,” to the support of White auto industry workers.
But Kattula knew there was another bloc of voters crucial to Trump’s success. She saw them crowding the Sahara Restaurant on 16 Mile Road, sharing tea and speaking in Suret — a lilting dialect of the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. She saw them on Sundays through the haze of myrrh smoke that filled the nave of her church. She saw them across the kitchen counter and dining room table of the Sterling Heights house she and her husband bought in 1992, because among the president’s supporters were some of her own children.
They were Chaldeans, Eastern Rite Catholics who for centuries had faced persecution in the plains of northern Iraq and had fled to the United States in large numbers during the years of chaos that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion of their country. University of Michigan researchers estimate that at least 160,000 Chaldeans live in the greater Detroit area. But they are ignored in most demographic studies, including the census, which doesn’t separately track people of Middle Eastern descent.
So it was no small thing when Trump, during a January 2020 stop at a local auto parts factory, brought up the “wonderful Iraqi community” and pledged to offer relief from deportations for Iraqi Christians. An even more decisive moment came in October 2020, when Trump specifically mentioned the Chaldeans — the first U.S. presidential candidate, let alone sitting president, ever to do so.
“We’re working to help the Chaldean Christian community,” Trump said at a rally outside Detroit. He didn’t explain what help he would provide but pointed to a member of the audience. “Are you Chaldean? Wow. Good.” Ululations of the kind heard at Middle Eastern weddings trilled from the crowd.
Fadi Koria, a 21-year-old refugee from Baghdad who earlier this year became an American citizen, recalled how footage of that moment exploded across Chaldeans’ Facebook and Instagram accounts.
“Being recognized by a president, that was huge for us,” Koria said. “We know that somebody’s caring about us. We do have a voice here.”
Chaldeans aren’t the only immigrants transforming Macomb County. Others have come from Bangladesh and Thailand, Central America and the Balkans. In Sterling Heights, a suburb of 134,000 once nicknamed Sterling Whites, nearly a third of residents are foreign-born. The monumental Chrysler and General Motors plants that rise above Van Dyke Avenue now loom over pho shops, Albanian diners and bakeries selling more than 20 kinds of baklava.
But Macomb County has not followed the path of the Atlanta suburbs, or huge regions of California, or some of the other places where a less-White America has become a more reliably blue America.
The home of the Reagan Democrats voted twice for Barack Obama and twice for Trump. The mayor of Sterling Heights, then a lifelong Republican, voted for Joe Biden in 2020 out of disgust with Trump. In the next town over, the Shelby Township clerk signed his name to the slate of false Trump electors who sought to undermine Biden’s victory.
The mix of demographic change and political discord can result in strange scenes, such as the night in March when America’s culture wars raged at the annual cultural exchange in the Sterling Heights Community Center. As acts as varied as an Irish dance routine and a fashion show of Iraqi folk costumes took the stage, a Colombian immigrant and right-wing activist named Jazmine Early gathered signatures for a petition to overturn a local LGBT rights ordinance.
“Honestly, I don’t want to go to a bathroom where a man pretends to be a woman,” Early said. “I don’t feel safe.”
Kattula, 53, avoided the gazes of the signature-gatherers as she passed them in a traditional, olive-yellow gown and sequined sandals. In a county known for an unpredictable political identity, she makes a point of not disclosing her own: Her school board position is nonpartisan, and the mother of five refrains from telling anyone how she votes in presidential elections.
But she couldn’t hide her displeasure at the intrusion of divisive rhetoric at an event she had helped organize, one of the community’s first large gatherings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the kind of thing we do to try here to bring diverse groups together,” she said when she was out of earshot of the activists. “And then here are these people tearing us apart.”
Kattula says politicians’ actions reveal more than their words, and her own actions reveal something about where she stands in a politically fractured place. She has voted on the school board in favor of the mask mandates that are anathema to many of Macomb County’s Trump devotees. When she endorsed a Democrat and fellow Chaldean who ran unsuccessfully for the county commission in 2020, she was approached by members of her church, who asked with pained expressions how she could support a party that tolerated abortion.
Despite those positions, Kattula remains popular as the county’s most prominent Chaldean elected official.
But not as popular as Trump.
Last month the 45th president returned once again to Macomb County, holding a rally at which he railed against stolen votes, slanted media, elites who ignored the concerns of working people — and immigrants from a war-torn country. Trump denounced the Biden administration’s resettlement of Afghan refugees in Michigan.
“If any part of our country is going to be turned into a migrant camp, it should not be the communities of hard-working Americans,” he said. “It should be the neighborhoods of the radical-left politicians who have callously thrown open America’s borders.”
Kattula wasn’t surprised that Trump’s comments did nothing to dim his support within her own community of immigrants. A few weeks before the former president’s visit, she’d been at the Chaldean Community Foundation, where she manages programs for refugees with special needs, helping a recently naturalized Chaldean fill out her voter registration forms.
Afnan Polus, a 42-year-old who is blind, answered questions from Kattula in halting English.
“Are you a United States citizen?”
“Yes,” Polus said, beaming. “Sure.”
“Male, female or nonbinary?”
Michigan’s voter registration form doesn’t ask about party affiliation. But spurred by a Post reporter’s curiosity, Kattula spoke to Polus in Suret, asking the question that she herself preferred not to answer: Was she a Republican or a Democrat? The refugee smiled.
She was a Republican, she replied in her native tongue, and in her response was a single syllable of English: “Trump.”
‘Everybody was running’
It isn’t hard to recognize the turnoff for the old Laurel Shopping Center. The Giant Food sign that towered over the site of Wallace’s shooting in 1972 still stands.
Beyond that landmark, however, most resemblance to the past has vanished. The five-and-dime whose roof Secret Service members climbed to survey Wallace’s 1972 rally is gone. The old Tastee-Freez has given way to a Guatemalan chicken joint. Other restaurants at the shopping center offer Jamaican and Peruvian food.
For those who knew the old Laurel, it can be hard to get your bearings — even for someone like Matt Holt, who never left. The 14-year-old Wallace campaign volunteer is now a 64-year-old who lives a mile west of the shopping center. On a recent morning, he stepped out of a weathered Nissan Frontier in the parking lot and stared at a hand-drawn map.
The Equitable Trust building where Wallace’s stage was set up is now a drive-through Bank of America. Studying the sheet of paper on which he had scribbled his remembered version of the rally, Holt finally found it: The place he had been standing nearly 50 years earlier when Wallace was shot. He raised and then lowered his right hand, index finger extended to mimic the barrel of a .38 revolver — the assassin’s gesture, unforgotten.
“Everybody was running,” Holt said.
The dreamlike chaos of that scene is chronicled in newspaper articles and police reports. Wallace’s young wife threw herself across her bleeding, motionless husband. A Secret Service agent who had been shot through the throat staggered around, mute from a paralyzed vocal cord. The gunman, a smiling 21-year-old from Milwaukee named Arthur Bremer, disappeared beneath a heap of police officers and Wallace supporters. The Grand Ole Opry singer who performed at Wallace’s rallies stood in his maroon suit and cowboy boots, weeping.
As Wallace was recovering from a five-hour emergency surgery at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, he won the Michigan and Maryland primaries. He would survive, but one bullet’s path into his spine left him in a wheelchair and in near-constant pain, incapable of his old style of campaigning. He would be reelected twice more as Alabama’s governor, but his quest for the presidency was over.
In the late 1970s, he announced a renewal of his Christian faith and apologized to Black civil rights leaders, a road-to-Damascus moment that many greeted with skepticism. Bremer, his would-be assassin, spent 35 years in prison and was released in 2007. He has never spoken to reporters about that day, but his diaries indicated that the crime was not motivated by politics. He shot Wallace simply because he wanted to be famous. President Nixon, his first choice, was too hard a target.
And so it was Nixon whom Americans reelected president in 1972 and who would resign in disgrace two years later. A year after that, the war whose critics Wallace had mocked would end in defeat for the United States after the loss of more than 58,000 American lives. The court-ordered integration schemes Wallace had derided went forward in cities and suburbs across the country, including in Prince George’s County, where Black children began to step out of buses every morning at schools in Laurel and other largely White suburbs.
Many White families eventually left those suburbs, heading for areas unaffected by federal busing orders. And many White voters started deserting the Democratic Party in places including Evansville and Macomb County.
But something else emerged after the chaos of the 1960s and 1970s. And it can be seen in Laurel.
Holt saw it on a day in late March as he walked up his street in Laurel Hills, the middle-class subdivision where he and his wife bought a house in 1986.
“This was all pretty much White folks,” he said. “They’re dying out and moving out, if they haven’t already.”
Others have moved in. Holt knows them: Valerie and Dean, a Black couple originally from D.C. Eduardo and Milena, from Peru. Roberto and Antonio, brothers from El Salvador who sometimes share a few beers with Holt on their porch in the evening.
He has talked to longtime residents of Laurel who lament the loss of what they considered a close-knit community, people whose new neighbors have remained strangers. It’s a view Holt, retired after 26 years as a financial clerk for the U.S. Senate, doesn’t share. When he isn’t running errands for his ailing in-laws or playing Fortnite with his grandchildren, he likes to shovel snow or barbecue with the people on his street.
“I got no problem meeting new people,” he said.
There are many new people to meet. Laurel’s population has nearly tripled since the 1970 Census and today stands at an estimated 30,000. When Wallace came to town, Whites made up 95 percent of the population. Now they are 24 percent, a minority rapidly being overtaken by Latinos, at 19 percent. The majority of people in Laurel — about 51 percent — are Black.
Yet Laurel is no post-racial utopia. The city’s schools, like many elsewhere in the country, suffer from racial achievement gaps that are particularly severe for Hispanic children. They have also effectively been resegregated, with many of the remaining White families opting for private education. The city’s police department — still majority-White — retains a reputation for harsh treatment of African Americans.
“There’s too many people still hiding behind the smile,” said Valerie Gregory, Holt’s next-door neighbor, who is Black.
As a child, Gregory attended the 1963 March on Washington with her family, watching from the Mall as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his vision of racial harmony: Even in Wallace’s Alabama, King hoped, Black and White children would one day be able to join hands as “sisters and brothers.”
Now a 72-year-old retired from a secretarial career at the Pentagon, Gregory feels her own experience of a multiracial society has been less gauzy, consisting in part of repeated arguments with her Latino neighbors about the volume of their music.
Among the people on her street, she said, “Only one I made friends with is Matt.”
That sense of isolation is echoed by Joe Kundrat, who attended Wallace’s rally as a 19-year-old and managed to capture some of the day’s most circulated photographs on the Pentax 35-millimeter camera he carried with him.
Kundrat, a White retiree from the U.S. Postal Service, said he knows little about the Black and Latino families that have moved into his longtime neighborhood in North Laurel. And he is a minority in another sense: A Trump supporter in an area where nearly 9 in 10 voters went for Biden in 2020.
“He stood for the country,” Kundrat said of Trump. “If you’re Christian, God’s first, then family, then country.”
Holt takes a harsher view of the 45th president, who he says “took a bunch of uneducated people and played them.” Although he calls himself an independent, he says he has voted for Democratic presidential candidates since 1996.
But he still defends his support for Wallace, for the same reasons he formulated as a 14-year-old: He liked the rhetoric about standing up for the little guy and believed the Alabama governor’s claim that he wasn’t racist.
Yet Holt’s life, like his city, would be barely recognizable to the scowling politician who mounted the stage at the Laurel Shopping Center in 1972.
Every weekday afternoon, Holt drives to pick up his grandchildren from Bond Mill Elementary School, the same school he attended when it was nearly all-White.
The former campaign volunteer for the segregationist Wallace watches for two kids, one whose skin is fair, the other dark. They are the biracial children of Holt’s daughter, a White schoolteacher, and her husband, a Black accountant.
Their names, Ava and Jackson, are scrawled on the door jamb in Holt’s kitchen, alongside measurements of their heights at different ages — tokens of a past far more important than the ones in his attic, where several blue-and-orange “Wallace for President” bumper stickers lie buried in cardboard boxes.