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What are your views on George Wallace?

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I was one of the two students who were the subject of the Stand In the Schoolhouse Door and had the privilege of meeting the late Governor in 1996 when he acknowledged that he was wrong in 1963, and he asked for forgiveness. I harbored no malice or ill-will and accepted his apology. I am convinced that he was sincere and, further, realized the error he had made. He was, in my opinion, a redeemed man and sought to correct the record of history that had dogged him for 30 plus years. I also attended his funeral and found those in attendance were people who believed in his leadership and acknowledged his contribution to Alabama and American history.

Dr. James A. Hood
Madison, WI

If Wallace had not run in '68, the election would not have had a different result, except that Nixon would have won by a landslide. Yes, Wallace pandered to the worst racist sentiments in the South, but his attacks on busing and the welfare system resonated with the white ethnic voters in the North who would later be called "Reagan Democrats." At a time when the Warren and Burger Courts were engaged in judicial activism, countervailing voices needed to be heard.

Colin Gallagher
San Francisco, CA

George Wallace was one of the greatest politicans ever. He said what the people wanted to hear. Wallace was not a bad man. If he was, then what about the tens of millions of people who voted for him through the years. Did they, "sale their soul to the devil", along with him? Or is George Wallace just a scape-goat for people who opposed Civil Rights?

Lamar Echols
Auburn, AL

Although it is possible for someone to do a complete turn around in their thoughts, it is highly unlikely it would happen as quickly as Mr. Wallace would like us to believe. I hope that he has at least realized some of the errors he had preached.

Cincinnati, OH

I had heard and read of Governor Wallace's moral transformation before I watched the PBS documentary, and I questioned its sincerity as I viewed the program. Wallace's positions of small government and states' rights did make him attractive nationally but bred attitudes of intolerance and selfishness. Little good can ever evolve from this stance. What impacted me most from the show was the lack of celebration from the black community after the shooting and its embracing of the Governor in his later years. This shows a wisdom many of us don't understand. If they feel he was sincere, then we all must feel somewhat the same way.

Fred Kramer
Luxemburg, WI

Indeed George Wallace was a political pragmatist. He siezed every opportunity to further his political aims and changed his views to fit the political climate. However, I believe he saw the error of his ways and sought forgiveness. This element of the man, the fact that he reached out to those he wronged, was in certain regards very beautiful. More striking was the way black alabamians forgave him. I have never been so touched by a television program and have gained a certain measure of hope for the future of race relations in this country.

Frederick B. Giles
Honolulu, HI

I had the honor of meeting Governor Wallace on 3 different occasions. I see now, that as with President Kennedy, once someone has died, some of their former so-called supporters turn against them. Wallace had no need to apologize to Federal Judge Frank Johnson or others. While we are on the subject of apologies, is John Lewis willing to apologize for the actions of black Americans who rioted and looted in America's cities in the 1960's, causing a climate of fear and disrupting people's lives and dangerously destabalizing the Country, making it weaker and more open to invasion from abroad? When President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, white Americans didn't riot and burn. Why should black Americans or for that matter ANY group of Americans be permitted to riot and burn as black Americans did when Martin Luther King was killed?

Lewiston, ID

I agree with Governor Wallace's son that the great, untold story is the inner transformation of a pol covetous of power at any price into a child of God yearning to "Do the Right Thing." Though his plea for absolution from black Alabamians held great psychological importance, actions speak louder than words. Wallace's last administration authenticated his repentance, and his forgiveness of would-be assassin Arthur Bremer places him alongside Pope John Paul II as a contemporary figure who has extended and implored great acts of reconciliation.

In political terms, Wallace was the premier populist spokesman of the latter half of the twentieth century. Like fellow-governor Huey Long, Wallace wed concern for the downtrodden with mainstreet American cultural values. His populist economics distinguished him from conservatives (witness his debate with William F. Buckley Jr. on "Firing Line"). Conversely, his support of states rights and backlash against judicial activism set him apart from the Eastern Liberal Establishment of his own party. He, like all populists, made a greater share of voters feel enfranchised and hence, enriched our democratic processes.

Ben Johnson
Ft. Wayne, IN

What is one legacy Wallace has left? Recently the mayor in Miami vowed that the city would not assist the federal government in any way if they attempted to take Elian Gonzalez and return him to his father. Like Wallace, his strident declaration struck the correct note with the people most likely to elect him again. Wallace proved time after time that he would do or say anything to get the power he so craved, the hell with other people who did not think like him. Blaming the federal government and refusing to recognize the rights of all citizens of his state was shameful. It was too bad that Wallace chose not to stick to his guns and help all people of Alabama.

Brooklyn, NY

Governor Wallace was a true politician. Many of the issues that he campaigned for years ago got President Reagan elected. He was truely a politician a head of his times. Some will never forgive him for his cilvil rights positions even though he has been forgivin by many. Those are the people who need to look deep within themslves.

Atlanta, GA

Governor Wallace loved Alabama with all his heart and the people of Alabama loved him back! Never before or since has a Governor of any state been blessed with such profound admiration by his people. Wallace could have easily been crowned "King George"!

Tim Kelley
Birmingham, Ala.

For me, the fact that his ambition spurred him to embrace segregation and pander to the confederate flag waving, black hating contingent of my native state makes me uneasy about accepting at face value his later turnaround. If hate for ambition, why not repentance? It seems like the path of least resistance - They will elect if you support segregation? They will elect if you apologize for supporting segregation? I can see him as a grand puppeteer, calculating how to make the voters dance best. It makes me very sad, because I WANT to believe that he meant it, but I can't.

Richmond, VA

In the 1960s, I felt that George Wallace represented all that was wrong with the United States of America. He encouraged the worst in racist belief and behavior and, as expressed in the American Experience biography, I felt he was at least partially responsible for the death of the Sunday School girls in Birmingham. I believed that he gave tacit approval to the KKK and its murders of people like the Rev. James Reeb and Ms. Viola Liuzzo during the Selma to Montgomery march. During the campaign in 1968, he spewed words that were incendiary and could only be interpretated as hateful. I despised the man and all that he stood for.

It may seem strange, then, that I hold the view now that he truly repented as he sought forgiveness from the many he had maligned during the 1960s and early 1970s. I have believed for many years that the bullets that brought pain to his body made it possible for him to understand real pain for the first time in his life. As he looked around Alabama, he could see that his earlier behavior had caused a great deal of pain to a great number of people. Finally, he could identify with these people as his and their pain brought a level of equality between and among them. Had the failed assassin's bullets missed, or had there been no such attempt on his life, I believe he would not have sought reconciliation with those he had hurt--at least, it would not have come so early nor so sincerely.

In my view, it is tragic that it took such an event in Maryland to bring peace and a type of freedom to George Wallace and Black Alabamians. Had Wallace come into Alabama politics a decade or two later than he did, think of what he might have accomplished that would have been positive! But then, that period was filled with tragic figures, among them Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The worrisome thing is that we, the people, voted all of them into office. Maybe we should be the ones to seek forgiveness.

Madison, Wis.

I'm convinced Governor Wallace desired redemption, not only on the personal, but on the political level as well. Wallace was attempting, in this compelling final chapter of his life story, to win the applause of audiences yet to be born just as if they were gathered to hear him speak in Birmingham in 1963. And I don't blame him: God knows I would hate to be remembered the same way Wallace is bound to be.

Erick Ortman
Holdenville, OK

I was born in Alabama in 1959 to white, working class, racist parents and grew up there. I was a little girl myself when the little girls blew up in Birmingham. My elementary school was integrated the first day of my first grade. When the teacher asked for volunteers to sit next the the one little black girl, I raised my hand. I remember worrying about her from being blown up. I always knew that killing little girls with big bows in their hair and sunday dresses on was wrong. I couldn't underestand why the adults thought it was ok. I knew the Governor was why they could do that, and I was ashamed. In 1976 I wrote my senior term paper on the March to Montgomery from Selma. I made a perfect parents were too ashamed to come to school to hear me read it. I left Alabama as soon as I could on a scholarship to Vanderbilt University and never looked back. Being raised in that state at that time changed the course of my life. I think Alabama during those years must have been what Germany was like in the thirties. We must not forget what the Governor did.

Poquoson, VA

How sad that a person of great integrity like Gov. Wallace was in his early days, give way to political expediency! He was no doubt a symbol of ALL people, be they black or white. Near the end he realized the errors of his ways, however too much damage was done. Unlike most of today's politicians, at least George Wallace had REALIZED he was wrong.

D.C. Doyle

I find it extremely interesting that a man can cause untold suffering, pain and death to so many right-thinking Americans both black and white by cynically promoting views that even he was not fully convinced of solely to satisfy his political ambitions and lust for power and still be viewed in such a reverential manner through the rosy glasses of American "history." Maybe one day, when the disastrous effects of bigotry on this country are no longer downplayed as they were in your feature and finally given the consideration they deserve, Wallace and those like him, past and present, will finally be put in their proper perspective.

Tallahassee, FL

The documentary has been very enlightening. Especially when you see that Wallace's decision to back segregation to get elected doesn't make him much different that those today who have left their previous "convictions" behind to embrace issues such as abortion and the homosexual agenda. It appears that the ends do justify the means. Wallace wasn't so much a racist as he was a savvy politician. Thanks for airing this documentary and helping me to get this straight.

Columbia, MD

Governor Wallace had a deep love for Alabama. He was willing to do and say whatever it took to position himself to better his state. Little is remembered about Wallace beyond the "school house door" but upon closer inspection one will find a record of state wide improvements that spanned over twenty years. It is a record some are unwilling to look at and as a college student I am determined to preach.

Clay Leak
Albertville, AL

If Gov. George Wallace was a great man and spoke what people wanted to here, then that tells us alot about what many people really believed and thought. George Wallace was an opportunist pure and simple and history has proven that statement to be correct. I do believe that Gov. Wallace saw the error of his racist rheotic and the hurt that it caused many innocent people who simply want to be treated with respect and dignity. Hopefully Gov. Wallace will set an example for many Americans, that opposing Civil Rights is really opposing the American Dream.

Tavares Balkmon
Tampa, FL

When looking back on the career of George Wallace obviously it is impossible to ignore his playing the race card in exchange for power. It is equally impossible to ignore what I believe is a return at the end of his life to his true populist base. However, the true legacy he has left is that of planting the seed of the new conservatisim. As a teacher of Government and History I find it fascinating to speculate what would a modern George Wallace ( and no Buchanan, Ventura, and Perot do not count) do to campaign 2000. As a frustrated conservative Bush the blueblood does not inspire me, this election needs a George Wallace !!! As a South Carolinian, the climate is just right for a Wallace- like candidate to sweep to power in this state on the wave of discontent felt toward certain special interests by the "silent majority". And as an American, a Reagan/Wallace presidency is what this country needs to restore pride and patriotism in the White House.

Mike Burgess
Columbia, SC

I would like to put forth another question to those of you who do not believe George Wallace was sincere in his quest for forgiveness. Have you personally experienced a traumatic event in your life or in the life of someone you know and love? I ask this not out of malice but sincere wonderment. I believe anyone who has experienced life's dramatic twists has two options. He can fight the pain and suffering that comes with life's upheaval and strive to understand or he can succumb to lifelong bitterness. George Wallace survived the bullets that tore apart his body but more importantly, he was forced to look at life itself from a whole new perspective. His life was changed in an instant and in time, so too was his mind and soul. I believe George Wallace was fundamentally a good man. He made mistakes on his journey through life but which of us has not regretted something we did or said? We all fight our personal demons. Some of us wear them on our sleeves while others sequester them away. George Wallace had the courage to take responsibility for his wrongdoing and ask forgiveness. That came from many years of pain and soul searching. I cannot be forgiven if I refuse to forgive others. I've learned that myself. For an interesting perspective on George Wallace and Arthur Bremer, the man who tried to kill the governor, you might want to read an interesting book called 'The Two Deaths of George Wallace-A Question of Forgiveness' by Thomas Healey. It accelerated my understanding of others and myself.

Portland, OR

I am a thirty-three year old American. When I was born I did not have the right to vote. This fact really did not hit home with me until my 30th birthday. I was not taught much about George Wallace in school which is very strange because I went to school in the south Bilouxi, Mississippi first and Houston, Texas secound. I feel that he should be included in a whole race relations unit, to be inciated in kindergraten and up dated though out a public students academic life. You may ask why? I say why not? Our childern need to be aware of the exsitance of troubled past race relations, to prevent budding present race differences. I think the result will show, just like it did in my family. When I was born I did not have the right to vote nor could my parents vote, but now we both can. During my teen years their was minimal interacial dating but my bother's generation viewed things differently, as a result he married a White woman and I married a Nigerian man, now our family truly represents The United States Of America.

Florence Gunn Oriaifo
Houston, Texas

The Alabama in which George Wallace came of age was one mired in poverty. The post-reconstruction industrialization espoused by such Southerners as Henry Grady had yet to reach rural South Alabama. Agriculture was still the economic mainstay. Wallace recognized the struggles of the rural poor and their daily hardships left an indellible mark on the young man from Barbour County. When he finally rose to the office of the governor, he worked to improve the lives of poor Alabamians. New Roads, free text books, and a Junior College system that still benefits rural Alabamians were only a few of the reforms he instituted. Despite the segregationist rhetoric he espoused, the people of Alabama loved him because he never forgot his roots, he never forgot the poverty of his youth. The people of Alabama loved him because he was one of us.

Adrian D. Johnson
Citronelle, AL

An earlier post recalled the "lack of celebration in the Black community" over Wallace's shooting in 1972. Well, I was 8 when Wallace got shot and yes, the Black community did indeed celebrate. Wallace was public enemy no. 1 in Black America in those days.

A. M.
Charleston, SC

Now you probably won't have the nerve to print this but here goes. With regard to Governor Wallaces's veiws, I do not feel that his change was sincere at all. If given the opportunity to walk again...he would have been spewing his racial hatred once more. What you fail to acknowledge is that most whites from the time that they are born are taught to hate and despise blacks. They are fed a continuous daily dose of this by their parents. Throughout history, white males have suffered from such an inferiority complex that they have felt it necessary to emasculate every race of color in order to make the white race "appear" superior. George Wallace just dared to speak about what most white men feel but are afraid to say in public. And I don't feel that 5 bullets in 5 seconds can change a lifetime of hatred. But people are just too gullible to understand this.


I find George Wallace political as well as personal life very interesting. I can think of no other politician in American history that took a strong stance on several issues, one of them being segregation, and taking the initative to apologize later in his life for his earlier political policies. Usually, it is considered political suicide to admit that a policy or platform was wrong. But only George Wallace was able to have that work in his favor. Too bad we don't have any politicians today who have the courage and honesty to admit they made mistakes. On a final note, it is sad that in his personal life he seemed unsuccessful (being remarried twice and divorced twice).

Marty Zsolnai
Rochester, NY

I was born in Birmingham, AL in 1957 and resided in Alabama for the first thirty years of my life. Governor Wallace fascinated me. His speeches resonated and echoed the emotions of his audience like a fine tuned guitar. He knew what notes and chords to strike and his timing was impeccable. Wallace morphed into whatever political agenda he sensed could take him to higher office.

Don't like Wallace? Alabama's electorate would have elected whoever espoused his views. The Governor was just the messenger. Was he truly sorry? I definitely think so.

It's sad his 60's political message was what it was. His 70's message was weighed down by his past. Today's conservative speeches are laced with Wallace rhetoric. He was a man born before his time.

Daytona Beach, FL

I was a student at the University of Alabama in 1963 who truly despised what Wallace did there. Wallace was one of the world's cynical manipulators, down to the claim that John Patterson 'out segged' him in 1958. That was quite true, but John Patterson had been the Attorney General who cleaned up Phonix City, AL after his father, Albert, had been killed by the mobsters running the gambling interests in that city across the river from Fort Benning. Patterson even had a movie, The Phoenix City Story, made about him. Wallace would have doubtless lost even if he had not been the racial moderate, but he had his excuse.

But, ironically, Wallace, through his consistent hate-mongering and mismanagement of the control of the Selma to Montgomery march, gave President Lyndon Johnson the opportunity to go before Congress (how often have you seen that?) and deliver far and away his most effective speech, ending in "And we shall overcome". After that, resistance was futile.

If Dr. Hood says Wallace was redeemed, I accept it. But, ironically, the Civil Rights movement had no greater friend than Wallace, who represented so obviously the worst of Southern racism and made so clear the moral high ground occupied by Southern blacks.

Bryan Jones
Seattle, WA

I watched this program twice. I wept the second time. I watched a man with unlimited potential sell his soul to the devil and then watched the complete unraveling of his life. In the end, I honestly feel he came back to his true nature. I saw a man that was ahead of his time, and if he stayed true to his nature and was running for the 2K presidency, I would vote for Wallace. Truly, this was an American Tragedy.

Royersford, PA

I am wondering if it is really possible to change a racial mind in a short period of time of approximately 30 years. George Wallace was very convicted with his racial philosophy in the 1960's.

Mr. Parker
Williamsburg, VA

I am 26 years old and do not remember any of the bad or good done by Governor Wallace. All I remember about the man is what was taught me in my all-black high school and later in my white liberal arts college; that this was a horrible man who supported racists policies. After having watched the documentary, I gained a whole new perspective on George Wallace. This was a man who traded his very soul for political power. I don't dislike him or even feel my teachers were right for saying he was a horrible man. George Wallace was like many of us with dreams and stubborn ambition. Unlike most of us, he didn't know when to draw the line between that ambition and morals. I, too, feel sorry for the man and the choices he made. What's the difference between Wallace and other southern governors like Louisiana's Huey Long? Simple, Huey Long said what he meant and didn't deny what he really thought. Both men were power hungry, but Long didn't betray himself. Wallace did.

If I have learned anything from Gov. Wallace is that a high price is always paid for personal greed. He's shown me the importance of being true to one's self despite the rewards of immediate gratification, and for that I thank him. May God have mercy on his soul.

Benita Green
Atlanta, GA

Reading these follow-up comments to the program has added so much to my knowledge and understanding of George Wallace, a terrible and terribly complex man. Thanks to every one of you who have stated your views. I look forward to reading more.

I believe George Wallace was sincere in his apologies, but I cannot forget that among the many good acts he performed for Alabamians, that he consciously appealed to the very worst of the white man's nature knowingly causing misery and ruin to so many African American families (and to America) just to feed his ego. It is beyond my comprehension.

I would also like to add that although George Wallace performed many beneficial acts for the state of Alabama, overall he destroyed much more than he built.

Becky Shumway
Pinole, CA

What struck me most about this engaging documentary was being reminded that each and every one of us is on a special journey through life. It may be tragic or sublime, ordinary or supraordinate, coherent or chaotic. It may be all of those things in tandem and in turn -- a powerful combination of choice and chance. What remains constant among the variations, however, is the uniqueness of the excursion.

The arc of George Wallace's life was literary. Poisoned by ambition and the thirst for power. Humbled by the bullets from an assassin's gun. Redeemed (or so I'd like to believe) by the enduring and remarkable potential for change, for regret, for moral restitution.

George Wallace inflicted a heavy burden upon America. He was a force of darkness, an evil influence. Yet, though personal suffering and through the encounter with genuine faith that suffering brought to him, he did as much as any man could to make amends. He was a better man in a wheelchair than he was out of it. A stramge epitaph for a strange sojourn.

Though far more Richard III than John Falstaff, Wallace was given an rare and terrible opportunity: repentance. His politics were disgraceful -- literally. But his lifescript is pedagogical.

In short, he's almost, but not quite, forgivable.

Stu Woolley
Kingston, ON

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