1968 September 30

Real Freedom for the Thought We Really Hate: Eleanor Holmes Norton Defends Free Speech for George Wallace

 

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Assistant Legal Director for the ACLU, on this day went to court to defend George Wallace, segregationist governor of Alabama and candidate for president of the United States, who had been denied a permit to use Shea Stadium in New York City for a rally. Wallace’s aides were reportedly momentarily stunned when they were introduced to their African-American ACLU attorney in front of the courthouse. But they quickly accommodated themselves to the free legal assistance.

In the end, Wallace obtained a permit for a different venue for his speech in New York City. The entire episode is a classic case of the ACLU and Norton honoring the principle of defending the free speech rights for thoughts we hate. The idea of this freedom originated with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion in the case of Schwimmer v. United States on May 27, 1929. Eleanor Holmes Norton went on to a distinguished public career, including serving as the non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives from the District of Columbia (see January 3, 1991).

Watch a 1968 George Wallace campaign ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1G5lZcAznM

Watch a report on Eleanor Holmes Norton, “Activist of the Week”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OSa9uzjAlA

Learn more about Wallace and his impact on America: Dan T. Carter, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, The Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (1995)

Learn more about the First Amendment and hate speech: Gara LaMarche, ed., Speech and Equality: Do We Really Have to Choose? (1996)

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