George Wallace

1919 - 1998

George Corley Wallace was born on August 25, 1919 in a four-room "shotgun" house just off Main Street in Clio, Alabama. In all, the Wallaces had four children: George, Gerald, Jack, and Marianne. The family, like many others in the rural South, suffered hardships with the collapse of the economy during the Depression.

George's political leanings were, no doubt, shaped by the rural poverty he experienced and his father's open bitterness regarding the economic conditions in the South. George Sr. often expressed to his son that "Southerners couldn't be elected to national office because (Northerners) looked down upon us." Little did his father realize the impact his opinions would have on the political platforms of the future Alabama governor.

A University of Alabama Law School graduate, Wallace served as an army air force flight engineer during World War II.  Admitted to the bar in 1942, he was active in the Alabama Democratic party, serving in the state assembly (1947–53) and as a district court judge (1953–59). In 1962 he won election as governor as an avowed segregationist, and promised to defy federal orders to integrate Alabama schools. In June 1963, Wallace blocked two black students from entering the Univ. of Alabama, but capitulated when President Kennedy federalized the Alabama national guard.

Prevented by state law from succeeding himself as governor in 1966, Wallace had his wife, Lurleen Burns Wallace, 1926–68, run successfully in his place. As a leading opponent to federal interference in state issues, and a strong advocate for state’s rights, Wallace was an opponent of the civil-rights movement and demands by the federal government for states to submit to federal will.  Wallace campaigned for president in 1968 on a third-party ticket, capitalizing on strong state’s rights attitudes in the South, and racist and anti-Washington attitudes in both North and South to energize many.  Wallace carried many of the Southern states, but still lost the national election.

In 1970, he was reelected governor of Alabama. In 1972, he entered the Democratic presidential primaries; his campaign ended abruptly on May 15, when an assassination attempt by Arthur H. Bremer left him paralyzed below the waist. In 1974 Wallace was overwhelmingly reelected governor, and in 1976 he made another unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. Wallace had always insisted he was not a racist and in later years he did in fact align himself with a more liberal agenda and civil rights leaders.  In 1982 he was again elected governor, this time with the support of many black Alabamans; he retired in 1987.