George Corley Wallace Jr. sunrise 8/25/1919 Clio, AL, sunset 9/13/1998 Montgomery, AL. Married three times, divorced twice, widowed once, had four children.
I wrote the following article in 1998 shortly after his death:
GOV. WALLACE WAS `AN INTEGRAL PART OF MY YOUTH’
IT MAY appear strange for me to identify with the late George Wallace. He and I were seemingly complete opposites: He was a white segregationist politician — by all accounts heterosexual. I am a black liberal lesbian.
But we were both from the South. He was born in Alabama, and I lived there from 1964 to 1976 during his gubernatorial reign.
Wallace was the first politician of whom I have any memory. When my family and I arrived in Alabama, my first recollection was a billboard that stated: “Welcome to Alabama, You have now entered Wallace Country, Deep in the Heart of Dixie.”
Wallace had his political stranglehold on the Alabama governorship from the time that I was 7 through my departure for college in another state at age 17. If he wasn’t actually governor throughout this period, it was because a state law prevented him from succeeding himself. His first wife, Lurleen, was the de jure governor for a while, with George being the de facto one.
“Despite the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the public schools in Alabama were segregated until 1967, when I was in sixth grade. I was the only African American in my class at Highland Elementary School in Huntsville that year. This was four years after Wallace’s infamous inauguration speech: “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”
“I was in seventh grade in 1968, when the news came over the public-address system that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. I recall cheers from both teachers and students. Four years later, when Wallace was wounded by an assassination attempt in Laurel, Md., an announcement called for prayers for a speedy recovery for our beloved governor. I did not applaud when Wallace was shot, nor did I experience any glee.
Wallace seemingly shifted politically after I left the state. In his 1983 gubernatorial-inauguration speech, nearly 20 years to the day of his “segregation forever” speech, he asked for “justice and mercy” and warned that “A nation that forgets its poor will lose its soul.” He rejected segregation and formed alliances with African Americans. He even appointed African Americans to Cabinet posts and judgeships. Quite a far cry from the hatred-spewing governor whom I remember as a child.
Wallace left politics in 1986, and in the last 12 years I felt a great deal of pity for him. His health had been gradually deteriorating, and with the onset of Parkinson’s, he was a mere shell of his former self. Not that I wanted the Wallace of old. But he did have integrity and endurance in his fights against integration.
The last public memory that I have of him was an interview last year after the airing of a television miniseries starring Gary Sinise as Wallace. An African-American man accompanied him through the interview, and at one point Wallace indicated that the man was his best friend.
What a world! Unlike President Richard Nixon, Wallace seemed to have changed.
When I heard of Wallace’s death, I was surprised about the many feelings that washed over me. He was such an integral part of my youth — and he helped form my progressive politics to counteract the Wallaces of the 1980s and beyond.
Rest in Peace, George C. Wallace.
From Bedazzled and Bamboozled.
Peace, love, joy, gratitude, faith, courage, compassion, and blessings.