George Corley Wallace (August 25, 1919–September 13, 1998) was an American politician who was elected Governor of Alabama (as a Democrat) four times (1962, 1970, 1974 and 1982) and ran for U.S. President (in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976). His first wife, Lurleen Wallace, was the first (and only, as of 2004) woman to ever be elected as Governor of Alabama.
Education and military service
In his high school days he was a regionally successful boxer before moving on to law school in the late 1930s. After receiving his law degree in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, flying combat missions over Japan during World War II.
Early political activities
In 1946 he won his first election as a representative to the Alabama state legislature. At the time he was considered somewhat of a progressive liberal on racial issues. As a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1948 he refused to join in on the Southern walkout at the Convention, despite being opposed to President Harry Truman's proposed civil rights program due to what he viewed as infringements on states' rights. In his 1963 gubernatorial inauguration, he excused this action on political grounds.
In 1953 he was elected judge in the Third Judicial Circuit Court. Here he became known as "the little fightin' judge," a reference to his boxing days.
Governor of Alabama
In 1958 he was defeated by John Patterson in Alabama's Democratic gubernatorial primary election, which at this point in Alabama history still was the decisive election, the general election still almost always being a mere formality. This was a political crossroads for Wallace; Patterson had run with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, an organisation Wallace had spoken out against, while Wallace had been endorsed by the NAACP. After the election Wallace vowed "I'll never be outniggered again."
In the wake of his defeat, Wallace adopted a hard-line segregationist style, and used this stand to court the white vote in the next gubernatorial election. In 1962, he was elected governor on a pro-segregation, pro-states' rights platform in a landslide victory. In his inaugural speech he declared "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever."
On June 11, 1963 he stood in front of a schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop desegregation of that institution by the enrollment of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood; when confronted by federal marshals, Wallace stepped aside. Later in life he apologised for his opposition at that time to racial integration. When reporters asked Wallace how he thought his actions were being received in Third World nations that America hoped to win to its side in the Cold War, Wallace responded: "those people don't know where their own countries are, let alone Alabama."
Using the infamous public image created by the University of Alabama controversy, he mounted his first presidential campaign in 1964, showing surprising strength as a national candidate in Democratic primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Indiana, winning as much as a third of the vote. His "outsider" image and message of states' rights appeared to have national appeal.
Alabama's state constitution prevented him from seeking a second term in 1966, a restriction that was later repealed, largely due to the work of his backers. Wallace found a way around this by having his wife, Lurleen Wallace, run for the office. She won the election. It was widely known at the time of the election that George Wallace would actually run the state. His wife, however, passed away in 1968, when she was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Albert Brewer, leaving Wallace somewhat out of power until he could mount a new bid for election in his own right in 1970.
American Independent Party presidential candidate
When Wallace ran for President in 1968, it was not as a Democrat but as a candidate of the American Independent Party.
He had hoped to receive enough electoral votes to force the House of Representatives to decide the election, presumably giving him the role of a power broker. Wallace's hoped that Southern states could use their clout to extract concessions to end federal efforts at desegregation. This did not occur.
Wallace ran a "law and order" campaign similar to that of Republican Candidate, former Vice President Richard Nixon (see Southern strategy), worrying Nixon that Wallace might steal enough votes to give the election to Democratic candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Wallace's "outsider" status was once again popular with voters, particularly in the rural South, and he carried five Southern states, gaining almost enough electoral votes to throw the election to the House of Representatives, and making him the last person to date actually to win electoral votes who was not the nominee of one of the two major parties. Additionally, he received the vote of one North Carolina elector who was pledged to Nixon.
Despite his views, Wallace was an entertaining campaigner. To hippies who said he was a Nazi, he replied, "I was killing fascists when you punks were in diapers." To other hippies, he said, "You shout four letter words at me, well, I have two for you: S-O-A-P and W-O-R-K." Another memorable quote to liberals was: "They're building a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia."
Wallace said he disagreed with Abraham Lincoln that blacks should be able to vote, serve on juries, or hold public office—although he agreed with Lincoln that equality for blacks could come with education, uplift and time. (Before the Storm, Rick Perlstein, pg. 317)
In 1968 Wallace rode white fury at the 1967 Detroit riots (see Jerome Cavanagh) and won the Democratic presidential primary there, even though at this point he had decided to make the race that year from the vehicle of his own American Independent Party rather than as a Democrat.
Second term as Governor
In 1970 he was elected governor of Alabama for a second term. In an effort to weaken the prospects of another presidential campaign in 1972, President Nixon had backed the incumbent governor Albert Brewer in the Democratic primary, while at the same time arranging an IRS investigation of possible illegalities in the Wallace campaign. A Gallup poll at the time showed Wallace to be the seventh most admired man in America, just ahead of Pope Paul VI.
In early 1972 he once again declared himself a candidate for president, this time as a Democrat. When running in Florida against the liberal George McGovern, 1968 nominee Hubert H. Humphrey, and nine other Democratic opponents, Wallace won by an overwhelming majority, carrying every county in the state.
While campaigning in Laurel, Maryland in May 1972, Wallace was shot four times by a would-be assassin named Arthur Herman Bremer. Three other people were wounded in the shooting; all survived. Bremer's diary, published after his arrest as An Assassin's Diary, showed that Bremer's assassination attempt was not motivated by politics, but by a desire to become famous, and that President Nixon had also been a possible target. The assassination attempt left Wallace paralyzed, as one of the bullets that hit him had lodged in his spinal column.
Following the shooting, Wallace won primaries in Maryland, Michigan, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Confined to a wheelchair, Wallace spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Miami in the summer of 1972. The eventual Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota would go on to be defeated by President Nixon in an overwhelming landslide.
While Wallace was recovering in a Maryland hospital, he was out of the state for more than 20 days, so the state constitution required the lieutenant governor, Jere Beasley, to serve as acting governor from June 5 until Wallace returned to Alabama on July 7.
In November, 1975 Wallace announced his fourth and final bid for the presidency. The following campaign was plagued by voters' concerns with his health problems, as well as the media's constant use of images of his apparent "helplessness", which his supporters complained was politically motivated by bias against him, citing the discretion used by some of the same organizations in coverage, or rather the lack of coverage, of the paralysis of Franklin Delano Roosevelt three decades earlier. After losing several Southern primaries to former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, Wallace dropped out of the race in June, 1976, eventually endorsing Carter while boasting that he had made it possible for a Southerner to be nominated for president.
Change of views
In the late 1970s he became a born-again Christian, and around the same time apologised to black Civil Rights leaders for his earlier segregationist views, calling these views wrong. His final term as Governor (1983 - 1987) saw a record number of black Alabamians appointed to government positions.
Second and third marriage
George Wallace remarried twice, with each marriage ending in divorce. In 1971, he wed Cornelia Ellis Snively, a niece of former Alabama Governor James E. Folsom ("Big Jim"). The couple were divorced in 1978. In 1981 Wallace later married Lisa Taylor, a country music singer. That relationship ended in 1987.
In his later days, he became something of a fixture at a Montgomery restaurant only a few blocks from the State Capitol which he had almost totally run in the past. Despite being in constant pain, he was surrounded by a constant entourage of old friends and visiting well-wishers. He continued this ritual until only a few weeks before his death, at which point he had become physically unable to continue it.