SPARKS — Nevada Humanities celebrates the 21st anniversary of the Nevada Humanities Chautauqua festival today and Thursday. Presentations explore the lives of historic characters such as Robert E. Lee, Benedict Arnold, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malcolm X and George Wallace.
Doug Mishler, who teaches American cultural history at the University of Nevada, Reno, will portray the late George Wallace. When asked which sinner he felt should be added to the program, and after he suggested former Gov. Wallace, Mishler said, “The phone went silent for about five minutes then they said, ‘we’ll get back to you,’ and hung up.”
On Monday Mishler appeared at a workshop at the Spanish Springs Library and explained what a complicated character Wallace was. Born in 1919 to a very poor family, Wallace worked for improved education and the rights of the poor, regardless of their color. As a judge he was one of the few who would respectfully address black lawyers and listen to their testimonials. Wallace them either as sir or by their names rather than calling them “boy,” which many white judges of that time did. But, Mishler explained, Wallace’s sin was using the segregation issue to get elected as governor of Alabama, even though he might not have believed in the system.
Mishler told a story of how in 1979, a then wheelchair-bound Wallace appeared at the church of Martin Luther King Jr., and asked for forgiveness for how his words had hurt the black community. In the final election Wallace apparently received 100 percent of the black vote in Alabama and then appointed more blacks to positions than Jimmy Carter did. In his performance, Mishler will bring this character from America’s history back to life.
The Nevada Humanities Chautauqua performances continue today and Thursday. Mishler and Charles Everett, who appears as Malcolm X, will preform at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Bartley Ranch Regional Park located at 6000 Bartley Ranch Road in Reno.