John Patterson, former segregationist Governor of Alabama, died on Friday at the age of 99. In an interview with The Washington Post for what would later be his obituary, he said “Having a record of supporting segregation is a terrible burden to bear.” In 2008 he announced he’d be voting for Barack Obama for President, 50 years after his election as Governor.
Patterson is one of the last in a pretty long list of segregationist luminaries who later came to regret and recant their support for Jim Crow. We’re right to have limits on our patience for too much of these latter-day apologies. But Patterson’s story is instructive for understanding the current drive of radicalization within the Republican party.
All of these guys were segregationists to start with and all of them were racists, certainly by the standards of today and in pretty much every case by the standards of their own. But pretty few of them were the most racist and few got into politics with strong positions either way on segregation or the racial politics of their day.