George C. Wallace, one of the most divisive
political figures in American history, died at age 79 after years of health problems. The
former Alabama governor had been cursed by the civil-rights movement and immortalized by
the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrds "Sweet Home Alabama" ("in Birmingham,
they love the guvnah!").
Mr. Wallace proclaimed upon his 1963 inauguration the
stance that would weld him into history: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow,
That same year, he made his "stand in the schoolhouse door" trying to keep
blacks out of the University of Alabama. In 1964 he tossed a scare into the Democratic
Party by entering the presidential primaries. In the next three campaigns, he threw
himself into the race for the White House, proclaiming himself a champion of the little
guy against the establishment.
Mr. Wallace referred to student protesters as "pointy-headed intellectuals who
cant park their bicycles straight" and won standing ovations from his fans.
Auburn University historian Wayne Flynt says that Mr. Wallaces opportunism became a
factor in the retreat of liberalism in electoral politics. "I think Wallace was a
genius at seeing where American public opinion was going and shifting his course with the
public opinion," Mr. Flynt said.
Republican campaign strategists saw in Mr. Wallaces success a sign that Southern
voters in that region were becoming disaffected with the Democratic status quo. Political
strategies like Kevin Phillips saw an "Emerging Republican Majority" and began
reaching out to Southern voters. The resulting "Southern Strategy," frequently
dismissed as racism, became an integral part of presidential campaigns from Nixon to Bush.
Mr. Wallace himself changed after Arthur Bremers 1972 assassination attempt. Left
paralyzed in the legs, the governor started to contemplate a world beyond human
government. Billy Graham was with Mr. Wallace on the day in 1983 when Christ transformed
the man whose segregationist rhetoric had won him votes: "I remember reading to him
the verse: What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own
The Christian George Wallace condemned racism. Mr. Graham said, "Gov. Wallace
stands as a shining example of what a conversion to Christ can do in a mans
life." In 1994, Mr. Wallace said, "I was wrong, and Im sorry."
George Wallaces 1960s defiance was straight-forward. So was his confession.