"Seymore, you know why I lost that governor's race?... I
was outniggered by John Patterson. And I'll tell you here and now, I will never
be outniggered again."
— George Wallace aide Seymore Trammell quoting Wallace after
Wallace lost the 1958 Alabama Democratic gubernatorial primary race.
"And whether or not you've agreed with me at everything
that I used to do, and agreed to — I know that you do not — I, too, see the
mistakes that all of us made in years past."
"I did stand, with a majority of the white people, for
the separation of the schools. But that was wrong, and that will never come back
"I don't expect people to forget my brash words or
deeds. But I ask that they try to remember the actions that I took that were
designed to help them."
— George Wallace, in the 1980s, after becoming a Born-Again
Christian, at the beginnings of his attempts to apologize to and beg forgiveness
from the black community.
Governor George Wallace is arguably most-often remembered by ally and foe
alike for his June, 1963 stand on the steps of The University of Alabama,
blocking the doors, in an attempt to prevent two black students from enrolling.
President Kennedy sent the National Guard to move Wallace
aside. Wallace was violating a Federal court order to allow blacks to enroll in
the University. In September of that year he sent Alabama State Police to close
the schools and prevent Federal Justice Department orders to integrate
Alabama's schools. Again, Kennedy federalized Alabama's National Guard and
opened the schools.
Thanks to courageous television reporters, the country watched in horror on
March 7, 1965 as Alabama State Troopers, armed with tear gas, clubs, police
dogs and firehoses, attempted to break up a civil rights march from Selma,
Alabama to the state's Capitol. The marchers intended to pressure Wallace to
allow blacks to vote per the 1964 Civil Rights Act,
signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. On the 25th
of that month, again black marchers were confronted with violence as they
attempted to register to vote. Despite the Federal law, Alabama state rules and
regulations made it all but impossible for blacks to vote.
The appalling violence made it easier for President Johnson to pass yet
another Civil Rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, than had a
peaceful demonstration taken place. President Kennedy had tried to pass the
Civil Rights legislation, but Congress could never garner enough votes to get it
to Kennedy's desk.
Indeed, during the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the face and voice of
Civil Rights. George Wallace, of course, was the face and voice of segregation
It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy,
this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the
drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and
again down through history. Let us rise to the call for 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 now, segregation tomorrow, segregation
— Wallace's first gubernatorial inaugural speech
Wallace went on to become elected Governor of his state four times. While
Wallace put a face on racial hatred, one of course must not single him out as a
culprit. The (all white) voters of Alabama supported him every time he ran.
(Voters all over the country supported Wallace in his bids for President,
especially the earlier ones.)
Ironically, the voters actually failed to help Wallace win the Democrat
primary in his first run in 1958. His opponent, John Patterson, had the support
of the Ku Klux Klan. On the other side of the coin, the NAACP actually
supported Wallace, perhaps in part because of Patterson's Klan support.
His defeat in '58 caused him to realize that he needed to put his
segregationalist tactics into high gear in order to become elected. Wallace
began to use many versions of racist rhetoric to convince voters that he would
not put up with the Civil Rights movement.
George Corley Wallace was born on August 25, 1919 in Clio, Alabama to George
C. and Mozelle Wallace. The young Wallace won the Alabama State Golden Gloves
bantamweight boxing title, and won again the following year. A fierce fighter,
he was only defeated four times in his competitive career.
In 1937, Wallace enrolled in the University of Alabama Law School. His father
died six weeks after George left for College. Wallace was popular, and was
elected president of his freshman class. Wallace received his law degree in
Wallace met 16-year-old Lurleen Burns in 1942. He joined the Army Air Corps
and began training at Arkadelphia, Arkansas. However, his service was
interrupted by a near-fatal bout of spinal meningitis. On May 21, 1943 the
23-year-old Wallace marries 17-year-old Lurleen.
Wallace fought nine combat missions in the Pacific theater. He received a
medical discharge in 1945, however, shortly after the Japanese surrendered, for
"chronic severe anxiety." Lurleen bore their first child, Bobbi Jo, in
A Life In Politics
Early in Wallace's career, there were no indications that he would become the
outspoken racist that he became in later years. In 1946, Wallace ran for State
Representative for Barbour County to the Alabama legislature and won. He had
great ideas for the betterment of Alabama's education system, and making the
state more industry-friendly. He became known as progressive and liberal with
his regard to treatment of blacks in the state. By 1948 he became an alternate
delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Although Wallace was opposed to
President Truman's civil rights proposals, he refused to join
other Southern delegates, including half of Alabama's delegates, in a walkout
once the Party adopted a civil rights platform.
By 1949, Wallace was appointed to the Board of Trustees of Tuskegee
Institute, a school founded by Booker T. Washington with the goal of teaching
blacks skills for the workplace. His record shows that he was a productive,
progressive board member. This is counter to accusations made later that he took
the appointment to attract the black vote.
Meanwhile, Lurleen Wallace gave birth to Peggy Sue, and George C., Jr. in
1950 and 1951 respectively.
By 1953, Wallace wins a judgeship in the Third Circuit Court, a position
which he'll hold until 1959. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of
an end to segregation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
In 1955, Rosa Parks, an NAACP member, is arrested for refusing to relinquish
her seat to a white person. The following year, the Alabama legislature outlaws
the NAACP in that state. By 1958, his loss in the gubernatorial primary to a
racist had turned him into a hard-line segregationalist.
Wallace won a landslide victory for Governor of Alabama in 1962. His platform
was pro-segregation, and pro-states' rights. A portion of his inaugural speech
is reiterated hereinabove.
Wallace Sets His Sights Higher
George Wallace entered the 1964 Democrat primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland,
and Indiana. He showed well in those elections, demonstrating surprising
strength as a national candidate. This also demonstrates that racism is alive
and well in the North as well as in the South.
Now, Wallace could only run every other term for Governor of Alabama, due to
the State's Constitution. The always-crafty Wallace induced his wife to run for
Governor in his stead. Although Lurleen had just undergone surgery and radiation
therapy for cancer, she ran, and was elected in a landslide victory.
Lurleen Wallace died in office on May 6, 1968. Her Lieutenant Governor,
Albert Brewer, takes over her position. Just over a month after Lurleen's death,
George Wallace announced that he'd run for President of the United States as the
nominee of the American Independent Party. He took race out of his campaign
rhetoric and replaced it with an anti-communism stance.
Although Richard M. Nixon defeated Hubert H. Humphrey and Wallace, Wallace
carried enough electoral votes to nearly throw the election to the House of
Representatives. He won the popular vote in five Southern states.
Wallace was elected Governor of Alabama for a second time in 1970. President
Nixon instigated an IRS investigation into illegalities in the Wallace
Presidential campaign. Shortly before his inauguration, Wallace marries Cornelia
1972 brought yet another run for the Presidency for Wallace, who chose to run
on the Democrat ticket. He solidly wins the Florida primary, taking every
precinct in the state, against Humphrey and nine other candidates.
Wallaces Is Shot
On May 15, 1972, a 21-year-old shot Wallace in Laurel, Maryland. Wallace
survives, but is paralyzed below the waist. The diary of the shooter, Arthur
Bremer, is published after his arrest and reveals that he'd have shot Nixon
would that have been less inconvenient. His motivation was not political; his
desire was to "become famous."
Wallace would be plagued by health complications and chronic pain for the
rest of his life as a result of the shooting. His assailant was paroled in 2007.
Although Wallace won primaries in three Southern states as well as Michigan,
he loses the nomination to George McGovern, who is soundly defeated by Nixon in
a landslide victory.
Wallace was elected to a third term as Governor. The Alabama legislature
passed an amendment permitting a governor to serve two consecutive terms.
During his second and third terms, The State of Alabama website credits
Wallace for doubling expenditures for healthcare, including allocating funds for
mental health care. He established an Office of Consumer Protection in 1972.
Farm incomes doubled. He appropriated more than half a billion dollars for
education. His business incentives resulted in a healthy capital investment by
corporations in Alabama, creating 43,000 new jobs in 1973 alone.
Contrary to the facts and supporting financial information on the Alabama
website, The Washington Post, in a Wallace obituary, claims that Wallace was
never responsible for any progress in Alabama. They further asserted that the
state remained on the low end of the list of expenditure per pupil for education
and for economic development.
Cornelia and George Wallace were divorced after an acrimonious public
separation in January of 1978. By 1981, he'd married a third and final time, to
Lisa Taylor, a country-western singer who performed during his '68 Presidential
run. Ms. Taylor was 30 years younger than her husband.
At some time during this period, George Wallace embraces Evangelical
Christianity and is "Born Again."
Wallace's Last Stand
Wallace took four years off and made a final run for the Governorship of
Alabama in 1982 and won handily. Wallace's final election included hefty support
from black voters. It was a complete turnaround from the old George Wallace.
This is quite possibly due to Wallace's reaching out to the black community by
way of apology. His most important move was to call John Lewis, a U.S.
Congressman and civil rights leader, to ask for his forgiveness for his past
transgressions against blacks. Lewis forgave him as well as other black leaders
Wallace's final term of office in Alabama is marked by the formation of the
"Wallace Coalition," including the Alabama Education Association, trial lawyers,
black political organizations and organized labor. The Wallace Coalition enjoys
significant success in improving the quality of life in Alabama. Wallace also
appointed a record number of blacks to government positions.
In 1985, he gives an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
and admits that his previous stand on segregation in schools was "wrong." By
1986, he bade a tearful farewell to politics. Health problems continue to plague
him. In 1987, his third wife, Lisa, divorces him.
An Example of Personal Change or Changing With the Political Times?
The press outside of Alabama never gave much coverage to Wallace's change of
religion and change of heart with regard to racism. In The New York Times,
Congressman John Lewis wrote a piece which explains why we should forgive George
Wallace for his past:
I can never forget what George Wallace said and did as Governor, as
a national leader and as a political opportunist. But our ability to forgive
serves a higher moral purpose in our society. Through genuine repentance and
forgiveness, the soul of our nation is redeemed. George Wallace deserves to
be remembered for his effort to redeem his soul and in so doing to mend the
fabric of American society.
Others will overlook Wallace's repentance in later years and always see him
as the face of evil. To reiterate what was said hereinabove, it takes more than
the politician to get elected; it takes voters who're attracted by a
A review in the Washington Post of a made-for-television biographical
movie about Wallace had this to say about the man:
Perhaps the fairest thing to say of George Wallace is that if we as
a people had been better, his opportunism would have taken him in less evil
directions. The hate-spewing governor is certainly one of history's
villains, but he is far from the only one.
George Wallace succumbed to heart failure on September 13, 1998 in
Montgomery, Alabama at the age of 79.
"George Corley Wallace" Alabama Dept. of Archives & History
http://www.archives.state.al.us/govs_list/g_wallac.html (Accessed March 1,
"Asa Carter" PBS Website re: Wallace Biography
March 1, 2008)
"A Biography of George Corley Wallace" Cyberlearning-World.com
(Accessed March 1, 2008)
"George Wallace" Who2.com
http://www.who2.com/georgewallace.html (Accessed March 1, 2008)
"George Wallace Dies" CNN.com September 14, 1998
http://www.cnn.com/US/9809/14/wallace.obit/ (Accessed March 1, 2008)
"Former Ala. Gov. George C. Wallace Dies" by Richard Pearson, The
Washington Post September 14, 1998 Page A1
(Accessed March 1, 2008)
"Forgiving George Wallace" by John Lewis, The New York Times,
September 16, 1998
(Accessed March 1, 2008)
"Sinise Shines as Wallace in Controversial Cable Biopic" by John S. Pancake,
The Washington Post, August 23, 1997 Page F1
(Accessed March 1, 2008)
"George Wallace Quotes" Learning from Lyrics
http://www.learningfromlyrics.org/wallace.html (Accessed March 1, 2008)