George Wallace had risen to prominence as an ardent supporter of segregation, and had long framed the issue in states rights terms that had resonated for Southerners since the antebellum period. As an Alabama circuit court judge, he made a name for himself by refusing a demand from the U.S. Civil Rights Administration to turn over voter registration books on the grounds that the demand was a violation of Alabama's right to conduct elections. When he took the governor's office in 1963, he continued his defense of white supremacy by saturating his speeches with the states rights rhetoric, especially his inaugural address:
Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation today...segregation tomorrow...segregation forever.
Drawing on the mythology of the Lost Cause, he argued that previous generations of southerners had resisted "vulturous carpetbaggers" and never consider[ed] the easy way of federal dictatorship and [racial] amalgamation in return for fat bellies." He drew on time-honored tropes to give the struggle for white supremacy that had put him in office an air of resistance to tyranny. Civil rights, he argued, was being forced down the throats of white Southerners by an overly-powerful central government.