Wallace, George Corley
WALLACE, GEORGE CORLEY
As the governor of Alabama and a presidential aspirant, George Corley Wallace did battle with the civil rights movement and defied federal efforts to desegregate schools in his state. His fight against school integration pitted him against federal courts, troops, and the administration of President john f. kennedy in a showdown over federal authority. Such stalwart convictions lionized Wallace in the hearts and minds of southerners and helped launch an increasingly successful national political career. While scoring victories in the 1972 Democratic presidential primaries, however, he was left partially paralyzed by gunshots from a would-be assassin—an incident that precipitated a political metamorphosis in Wallace. Though he failed to gain the presidency, he continued to serve the state of Alabama until 1987, when poor health forced him to leave the office after four terms and 17-and-a-half years.
Wallace was born August 25, 1919, the first of four children of George Wallace Sr. and Mozelle Smith Wallace. Only a few hundred people lived in his birthplace, the small town of Clio, Alabama. His father weathered the Depression by leasing land to sharecroppers, although the family never had much money. Wallace was encouraged by his father in two areas: politics and boxing. At the age of 15, he became a page in the Alabama state legislature. A good student, athletic and popular, he finished high school as his senior class president. His punch served him well, too, and in 1936 and 1937, he won the Alabama Golden Gloves Championship.
In 1937, Wallace entered the University of Alabama, with only two shirts and the desire to have a career in politics. He took four jobs, finished his degree, and remained at the university to study law. He earned his law degree in 1942, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps for pilot training. Soon after, a near-fatal case of spinal meningitis ended his dreams of being a pilot, but in world war ii, he went to the Pacific as a flight engineer on a B-29 bomber called The Sentimental Education.
After the war, Wallace's political career quickly took off. His first appointment was as state assistant attorney general. Then, in 1946, at the age of 27, Wallace won election to the Alabama House of Representatives. He soon established a high profile, twice being voted an outstanding member of the house. Wallace sponsored a number of liberal bills. He supported legislation that provided social security for county and municipal employees, created junior colleges and trade schools, and offered free tuition to the widows and children of men who had died at war.
Drawing on his name recognition as a legislator, Wallace ran for a judgeship in 1952, winning election to Alabama's Third Circuit Court.
"We haven't been against people. We've been against big government trying to take over and write a guideline for you and tell you how to cross the street, what to do with your union and your business when you know how to do it yourself."
—George C. Wallace
In 1958, Wallace launched his first gubernatorial campaign. This election would be a turning point in his politics. Wallace's chief
opponent in the Democratic primary was state attorney general John Patterson. Both candidates favored segregation, but Patterson's campaign had an edge: it was backed by the ku klux klan. When Wallace lost the election by nearly 65,000 votes, he vowed publicly never again to be "out-segged." After spending four years in private law practice with his brother Gerald, Wallace returned to politics in 1962 to run for governor again. This time, his opponent was former governor James Folsom. Wallace won the election and took office just as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum.
Wallace and other segregationists were determined to keep the civil rights movement out of Alabama. When martin luther king jr. and his fellow activists set out to integrate the city of Birmingham in 1963, violence met them repeatedly. Birmingham police officers unleashed water hoses, dogs, and clubs on the demonstrators and then Wallace dispatched the state troopers. Wearing steel helmets painted with Confederate flags, this force entered Birmingham with shotguns to crush the demonstration. Throughout the summer, while Ku Klux Klan members visited the governor's mansion to offer their services, there were bombings and shootings in Wallace's Alabama.
In the same year a federal judge ordered the University of Alabama to allow two black students to enroll. When Wallace vowed to prevent them from entering the university, U.S. attorney general robert f. kennedy traveled to Alabama to warn him that the Kennedy administration would enforce the court's decree.
On June 11, 1963, Wallace, having advised citizens of Alabama to stay away from the university, stood at a podium before the school door. Attorney General Kennedy telephoned once more, only to be told that the governor was unavailable. As reporters, photographers, and police officers watched, Wallace held up his hand to prevent Vivian Malone and James Hood from entering. Then he holed himself up inside the school for four hours. Meanwhile, President Kennedy federalized the Alabama national guard, which then moved in and forced Wallace to abandon his "schoolhouse stand" and admit the students.
In 1964, Wallace sought the Republican Party's presidential nomination. He did well in two early primaries, but the endorsement went to Senator barry m. goldwater, of Arizona. Wallace ran again as an independent in 1968, with moderate success, and sought the Democratic
nomination four years later. In this race, he swept aside challengers such as George S. McGovern, hubert h. humphrey, and John V. Lindsay in the Florida primary. But he would not complete the race.
On May 15, 1972, moments after giving a speech at a Laurel, Maryland, shopping center, Wallace was shot five times. His would-be assassin, Arthur Bremer, was caught, convicted, and sentenced to 53 years in prison. The shooting left the governor paralyzed from the waist down. It also began a provocative transformation of identity.
Reelected as governor in 1974, and serving consecutive terms until his retirement in 1986, Wallace gradually retreated from his segregationist views, admitting that he may have been wrong all along. Poor health forced Wallace to forego running for a fifth term as governor in 1986, but he left a legacy far different from the one suggested by his first term in office. In contrast to the obstinate figure blocking the door to the University of Alabama, he had become a leader recognized for lasting contributions to both blacks and whites. Wallace appointed several African Americans to important state posts. He also helped to establish a statewide junior college system, increased state aid to black universities, increased support for inner cities, and improved industrial development.
Wallace's health continued to decline and for several years he suffered from Parkinson's disease. Wallace died at the age of 79 on September 13, 1998, in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time of his death, many of his political appointees still held statewide office.
Lesher, Stephan. 1995. George Wallace: American Populist. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
——. 1994. George Wallace. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Wallace, George, Jr., and James Gregory. 1975. The Wallaces of Alabama. Chicago: Follet Publishing.
George Corley Wallace
George Corley Wallace
George Corley Wallace (born 1919) was an Alabama governor and a third-party presidential candidate in 1968.
Born on Aug. 25, 1919, at Clio, Ala., he studied at the University of Alabama and received his law degree in 1942. That same year he was admitted to the Alabama bar. In 1943 he married Lurleen Burns. They had four children. Between 1942 and 1945 Wallace served in the U.S. Army Air Force. After the war, he became assistant attorney general of Alabama. In 1947 he entered the Alabama Legislature, representing Barbour County, and remained until 1953. He served as judge of the Third Judicial District of Alabama between 1953 and 1958, after which he returned to private law practice in Clayton.
Wallace's experiences in Alabama politics prepared him for his election to governor in 1962. In 1966, barred by Alabama law from another term, he supported his wife's candidacy. Lurleen Wallace won a landslide victory. As governor, she admitted that her husband would continue to make the policy decisions. She died in May 1968. Mean-while her husband had emerged as a national political figure.
An outspoken critic of Federal-government interference in southern schools and an ardent segregationist, Wallace entered a number of presidential primary races in 1964, largely to channel opposition to the civil rights bill. His name appeared on the ballots in at least nine states, and in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland he polled 25, 30, and 43 percent of the vote respectively. At the governors' conference in June, he declared that he would run in the national election wherever he could place his name on the ballot. When the republican party nominated a conservative candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, however, Wallace withdrew from the race.
In February 1968 Wallace announced his intention to again challenge the Democratic and Republican parties in the race for the presidency. His appeal, as in 1964, embraced the discontent of conservative citizens, rich and poor, who believed their welfare endangered by high taxes, liberal court decisions, and Federal interference in local and state affairs. Wallace's program, repeated across the country almost without change, revealed his single-minded concern for property rights and freedom of local and individual decision—which, he warned, were threatened by the Federal bureaucracy.
Wallace's program called for an end to crime in the cities. He denied that he favored segregation but insisted that individuals rather than government officials had the right to decide where their children would go to school and to whom they would sell their houses. Although his campaign lost momentum during its final weeks, his strong states'-rights stand gave him wide support in the Deep South. In the November election he captured Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. His popular vote across the country was almost 14 percent.
In 1970 Wallace won a landslide victory for a second term as governor of Alabama. The following year he married Cornelia Ellis Snively in Montgomery. In 1972 he entered the presidential campaign as a Democrat and had victories in Michigan and Maryland. In May, while campaigning in Maryland, he was shot and was partially paralyzed as a result of the assassination attempt.
In 1982 he ran again and won a fourth term as governor of Alabama. His final term saw him sponsor an Alabama constitutional amendment that created an oil and gas trust fund whose interest supported the finances of all non-education segments of state government. He also worked a controversial bill that restructured the state's job-injury laws along with an attempt to promote a $310 million education bond issue. His further attempts, however, to fund education programs by raising property and income taxes met with failure.
In his later years, Wallace apologized for his stance against integration he held early in his political career. At the same time, he insisted that his infamous statements supporting segregation had to do with his fight against federal courts interfering with state issues rather than a being sign of racism against blacks. In a 1992 interview in Time, Wallace said he eventually realized that "either we had to do away with segregation or we wouldn't have peace in this country." He added, "I know that I love every citizen of Alabama, black and white." In March of 1995, Wallace was present for a reenactment of the famous Selma to Montgomery civil rights march of 1965.
John Craig Stewart, The Governors of Alabama, 1975; James Gregory The Wallaces of Alabama: My Family by George Wallace, Jr., 1975; Marshall Frady, Wallace (1968), is a fascinating personality study of Wallace by a journalist. A biting, unsympathetic profile of Wallace is in Robert Sherrill, Gothic Politics in the Deep South: Stars of the New Confederacy (1968). Discussions of Wallace's career and impact on the 1968 presidential elections are in Lewis Chester and others, An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 (1969); David English and the Staff of the London Daily Express, Divided They Stand (1969); and Theodore H. White, The Making of the President, 1968 (1969). For further information, please see George C. Wallace, the Politics of Race, produced by ABC news (1994); Boston Globe (December 2, 1993); Chicago Tribune (January 30, 1996); New York Times (February 11, 1994); and Time (March 2, 1992). □