Was George Wallace a racist, or a demagogic career politician, or perhaps both things? Well, the same question could be asked about Donald Trump and Patrick Buchanan, unfortunately. One of those men being the current President of the United States. Or, was George Wallace a Progressive? He was a big believer in education and even public education and infrastructure investment. Wallace envisioned Alabama as becoming state that would be less poor and rural that could move past its reputation as being a redneck backwoods ignorant state that expected Jesus to solve all their problems for them and instead have Alabamians go out and solve their own problems for themselves starting with a good education and a modern infrastructure system.
You could also debate whether George Wallace was a Progressive or a Conservative. He was a Federalist and a true believer in states rights even to the point that he believed Bible States could deny African-Americans access that Caucasians had simply because of race. Franklin Roosevelt was a true Progressive, but he wasn’t that far to the left of George Wallace on civil rights issues. They both opposed civil rights laws. But they both believed in a strong safety net, public education, infrastructure investment, strong national defense, both were strong anti-Communists. George Wallace’s politics was pretty complicated similar to Richard Nixon and now Donald Trump.
But you can’t put Wallace in one box as a Conservative or a Liberal, because he was neither. You could call him a Progressive because Progressive is actually different from Liberal. One focusing on progress through government action. The other centered around individual rights. And as far as Dixiecrats or right-wing Democrats, George Wallace was to the left of many of his fellow Dixiecrats on economic policy and believed again in public education, public infrastructure, progress, and even raising taxes to promote these objectives. Dixiecrats back then not only opposed civil and equal rights, but opposed public safety net programs and were more libertarian on economic policy.
And George Wallace changed his stances on civil rights issues by the late 1970s and became a believer (at least officially) in not just civil rights but equal rights while retaining his progressive leanings on economic policy and still remaining a strong anti-Communist, as well as Federalist, and believer in a strong national defense. He was to the right of Teddy Kennedy, but to the left of Strom Thurmond and many if not all of his fellow Dixiecrats. Which is why neither the liberal or conservative labels, fit George Wallace’s politics. Which makes him very similar to Richard Nixon.