Former Alabama Governor Albert Brewer will likely be buried this week. He died Monday at the age of 88. Brewer accomplished a lot, despite his brief tenure in office. For instance, Brewer gave public schools the largest funding boost in state history. He worked to bring new industry to the state, and he expanded Medicaid benefits.
Brewer also pushed for state constitutional reform, and he created Alabama’s first ethics commission.
He was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1966 and served as governor two years later when Gov. Lurleen Wallace died. But when Brewer, a racial moderate, launched an election campaign against George Wallace in 1970, it set in motion what the Alabama Department of Archives calls one of the dirtiest campaigns in state history.
“He was this stepping stone to a ‘New Alabama’, he liked to call, but what happened was he got caught up in the Wallace whirlwind, and pretty much became a victim of the Wallace strategy of winning an election, which is prey on fear and racism,” Jacksonville State University history Professor Gordon Harvey says.
The way this played out, according to Harvey, was a classic example of fake news before fake news was a thing. Long before Photoshop, the Wallace campaign doctored photos of Brewer with Johnny Cash in the governor’s office. “They doctored it to remove Johnny Cash to put Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and said that Brewer was too friendly to blacks,” Harvey says.
“They even made a radio ad that said that if Brewer was elected governor, he was going to replace all the state troopers with black troopers. And one of the radio commercials had sort of a dramatic portrayal of a black trooper pulling over a white woman at night. And all the implications were clear to see,” he says. “The level of race-baiting in that campaign has never been matched in any other campaign I’ve seen.”
Brewer wasn’t a very well-known governor. Harvey says that’s because he wasn’t flamboyant. “He was a clean-cut family man regular guy,” he says. “His only vice was that he drank tons of Coca-Cola a day. He probably had a sugar high most of the day, but that was it.”
Harvey says Brewer’s legacy was that he cared for the average Alabamian. “It’s hard to look at any other governor since him and say this person represented the little man in the state more than Albert Brewer did.”
Brewer later taught law and government at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. He founded the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.