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George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire | Timeline

George Wallace's Life

Wallace is elected judge in the Third Judicial Circuit Court in 1953 and held this position through 1959.

August 25: George Corley Wallace is born in Clio, Barbour County, Alabama, to George C. and Mozelle Wallace. A rural southeastern county famous for producing politicians, Barbour County remained the place where Wallace registered to vote throughout his life.

1923 Martial law is established in Oklahoma to protect citizens from Ku Klux Klan attacks. Following the end of World War I, the newly re-formed KKK began to grow in numbers as well as political power in the South and elsewhere.

October 28: The Great Depression in the U.S. begins with the stock market crash.

1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president in a landslide victory. This will be his first of four consecutive terms.

1935 Wallace serves as a page in the Alabama Senate.

1936 Still in high school, Wallace wins the state Golden Gloves bantamweight title, which he successfully defends the following year. He only suffered four defeats in competitive boxing.

1937 Eighteen-year-old Wallace enrolls at the University of Alabama Law School in Tuscaloosa. Six weeks after he leaves home, Wallace's father dies from Brill's disease. When he returns to college, Wallace runs for and is elected president of his freshman class. He continues to box.

1939 World War II begins in Europe.

December 7: Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese.

December 8: The U.S. enters World War II.

June: Wallace receives his law degree from the University of Alabama and,shortly afterwards, meets 16-year-old Lurleen Burns. Upon graduation, he enrolls in the U.S. Army Air Force.

January: Wallace enrolls in the U.S. Army Air Force.

April 1: Wallace is diagnosed by doctors at the Air Force Cadet Training Program in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, as having spinal meningitis. He slips into a coma for a week. After several weeks of recovery, he receives a 30-day medical leave.

May 21: Wallace and Lurleen Burns are married.

June 6: June 6: D-Day: American troops land in Normandy.

Bobbi Jo, the Wallaces' first daughter, is born.

1945 Wallace elects to forgo Officer Candidate School, reasoning that there will be more G.I.s among the Alabama electorate than officers, and instead opts for a training program as a flight engineer.

April 12: FDR dies. Vice President Harry S. Truman is sworn in as president.

May 8: V-E Day: The war ends in Europe after Germany capitulates.

September 2: Japan surrenders, signaling the end of World War II.

December 8: After nine combat missions over Japan, Wallace receives a medical discharge from the Air Force after suffering from chronic "severe anxiety."

Wallace wins his first election, as a representative of Barbour County in the Alabama legislature. Focused on enhancing Alabama's industry and education, Wallace became known as progressive and liberal in his dealings with and treatment of black Alabamians.

July: Wallace wins a seat as an alternate delegate to the Democratic Convention of 1948, held in Philadelphia. Despite his opposition to President Truman's proposed Civil Rights Program, Wallace refused to join the other Southern delegates, including half the Alabama delegation, in their walkout once the party adopted a civil rights platform. Later, in his 1963 gubernatorial inauguration, he excused this action on political grounds.

Wallace is appointed to the Board of Trustees of Tuskegee Institute, founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington with the goal of training African Americans in teaching skilled trades and crafts. Although there has long been speculation that Wallace sought this appointment as a way of gaining the black vote, his record as an active, productive board member was strong.

Peggy Sue, the Wallaces' second child, is born.

George C., Jr., the Wallaces' third child, is born.

Succeeding at yet another campaign, Wallace is elected judge in the Third Judicial Circuit Court. He held this position through 1959, during which time he earned the nickname "the fightin' little judge" -- a reference to his boxing days.

May: The U.S. Supreme Court calls for an end to segregation in public schools in their ruling on "Brown vs. The Board of Education."

December 1: NAACP member Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white rider. Her arrest spawned the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began on December 5 and lasted for an entire year. Many trace the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement to Parks' act.

June 1: Alabama outlaws the NAACP.

December 21: The Montgomery Bus Boycott ends with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that buses must be integrated.

May 6: Wallace experiences his first defeat by incumbent John Patterson in the primary for Alabama's gubernatorial race. Patterson ran with the backing of the Ku Klux Klan. Wallace had spoken out against the KKK and refused its support, receiving the NAACP's endorsement. He lost the election by more than 64,000 votes. This defeat marked a turning point in his politics and campaign style.

January: Now a hard-line segregationist, Wallace refuses to cooperate with the Civil Rights Commission, designed to investigate voting rights abuses. Although he ultimately surrendered local voting records to avoid jail time, Wallace used this stand to court the white vote in the next gubernatorial election.

April: Janie Lee, the Wallaces' fourth child, is born. Always called Lee, she was named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

June: Running on a pro-segregation, pro-states' rights platform, Wallace is elected governor of Alabama in a landslide victory. 

January 14: Wallace delivers his "segregation now, segregation forever" inaugural speech, penned by Asa Carter, the founder of a KKK terrorist organization. Ten years later, Carter moved to Texas and assumed the identity of Native American Forrest Carter, later writing his "autobiography," "The Education of Little Tree."

June 2: Wallace makes his first appearance on national television, on NBC's "Meet the Press," to discuss the impending court-ordered integration of the University of Alabama.

June 11: Wallace makes his "stand in the schoolhouse door" at the University of Alabama, temporarily blocking the admission of two black students who have legally enrolled at the University. Although Wallace soon backs down, footage of the event was broadcast on national television.

June 12: Medgar Evers, an NAACP worker in Mississippi, is murdered by white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith.

August 28: Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial to the 250,000 people gathered for the peaceful March on Washington.

September 15: The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is bombed by the KKK. Four African American girls die in the blast, sparking armed conflict between blacks and whites. Although bombings of black churches had been occurring throughout the Deep South and particularly in Birmingham since 1948, this tragic event galvanizes the Civil Rights Movement.

November 22: John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president.

July 2: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill, calling for, among other things, the integration of public places which had previously been whites-only.

The war in Vietnam escalates after a U.S. destroyer is allegedly attacked off the coast of North Vietnam. The war will continue through the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Wallace enters the Democratic presidential primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Indiana, showing surprising strength as a national candidate, winning as much as a third of the vote.

February 21: Malcolm X is assassinated.

March 7: "Bloody Sunday." Voting rights advocates attempt to march from Selma to the state capital. Wallace had tried to prevent the march by calling on the highway patrol. State troopers hold back the marchers with tear gas, clubs, and extreme violence. 

March 21: A second Selma-to-Montgomery March begins, this time under the protection of a federal court order. More than 25,000 march to the Alabama Capitol Building to ask Wallace to remove all remaining obstacles to black voter registration. Although the 15th Amendment prohibited racial discrimination in voting, state laws and practices were in place which made it difficult, if not impossible, for blacks to register to vote.

August 6: President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Bill.

October: Wallace orders the Alabama state legislature to draw up an amendment to allow a sitting governor to run for a second term, which was until then forbidden. When he doesn't get the necessary number of votes, he encourages his wife, Lurleen, to run as his stand-in. Shortly thereafter, Lurleen Wallace is diagnosed with cancer. 

March: Lurleen Wallace announces her candidacy shortly after undergoing radiation therapy and surgery for the treatment of cancer. 

November 4: Lurleen Wallace is elected governor of Alabama in a landslide victory. 

April 4: Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee., by James Earl Ray.

May 6: Lurleen Wallace dies of cancer in office. Lieutenant Governor Albert Brewer assumes her position. Five weeks later, Wallace launches his presidential campaign as the nominee of the anti-liberal American Independent party, shifting the focus of his platform from race to Communism following the passage of the Voting Rights Bill.

June 5: Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated in California by Sirhan Sirhan.

October: Wallace chooses General Curtis LeMay as his running mate. LeMay's pro-nuclear weapon stance does not help Wallace in the national election, but the governor's "outsider" status remains popular with voters.

November: Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphrey and Wallace, but the governor once again makes a strong showing, carrying five Southern states and almost enough electoral votes to throw the election to the House of Representatives.

Wallace is elected governor for a second term, running an underground racist campaign. In an effort to dash Wallace's political future, President Nixon had backed incumbent Albert Brewer in the Democratic primary, and also launched an IRS investigation of possible illegalities in the Wallace campaign. 

A Gallup poll shows Wallace to be the seventh most admired man in America, just ahead of the Pope.

January 4: Wallace marries Cornelia Snively two weeks before the gubernatorial inauguration. Cornelia Wallace was credited with creating a more sophisticated image for Wallace. Shortly after his marriage, he told reporters he had never believed in segregation.

Wallace enters the presidential primary again, this time as a Democrat. Running in Florida against the liberal George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and nine other Democratic opponents, Wallace wins by an overwhelming majority, carrying every county in the state. 

May 15: Twenty-one-year-old Arthur Bremer shoots Wallace in Laurel, Maryland, paralyzing him below the waist. 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.

Following the shooting, Wallace wins primaries in Maryland, Michigan, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

July 7: Confined to a wheelchair, Wallace is released from the hospital and speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Miami. George McGovern is chosen as the Democratic nominee for president. Richard Nixon defeated McGovern in an overwhelming landslide.

Wallace serves a third term as governor, possible because of the passage of an amendment permitting a governor to serve two consecutive terms. His third term was characterized by generous social programs.

Foretelling his future Christian "rebirth," Wallace appears on Jerry Falwell's "The Old-Time Gospel Hour."

August 9: Richard Nixon resigns to avoid impeachment for the Watergate scandal. Gerald Ford is sworn in as president.

1975 June: Wallace breaks his leg during physical therapy but does not realize it until weeks later.

November: Wallace announces his fourth, and final, run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Voters' concerns with his health problems, as well as the media's constant use of images of his apparent "helplessness," plague him throughout this campaign. 

February: Wallace's campaign is failing both throughout the nation and in the South. He loses the Florida primary, where in the past he had been unbeatable, to former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter.

June: After losing the North Carolina primary to Carter, Wallace concedes defeat and drops out of the presidential race. He ultimately endorsed his fellow Southerner, boasting that he made it possible for a Southerner to be nominated for president.

November: Jimmy Carter narrowly defeats Gerald Ford to become the 39th president of the United States. 

January 4: On their seventh anniversary, George and Cornelia Wallace are divorced after a nasty public separation. Unable to run for a third consecutive term as governor, Wallace accepts a position as a consultant at the rehabilitation center of the University of Alabama Medical School.

Wallace places a call to civil rights leader John Lewis, to ask his forgiveness for his actions of the past. Lewis as well as many other African Americans who Wallace contacts, accept his repentance.

Ronald Reagan is elected president. Later that year, John Hinckley, in an effort to catch the attention of Jodie Foster, tries to assassinate him. Reagan escapes serious injury, but Press Secretary James Brady suffers brain damage as a result of the shooting.

Wallace marries his third wife, Lisa Taylor, 30 years his junior and half of a country-western singing duo, Mona and Lisa, who had performed during his campaign in 1968.

After a four-year political hiatus, Wallace returns to the Governor's Mansion, defeating his opponent easily, largely with the help of the majority black vote. During what would be Wallace's final term as governor, he appoints a record number of black Alabamians to government positions and establishes the so-called Wallace Coalition, which included the Alabama Education Association, organized labor, black political organizations, and trial lawyers. 

Wallace addresses the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and pronounces his past stand on segregation in the schools "wrong."

At the end of his fourth term as governor, Wallace tearfully retires from politics. Over the next ten years, his health goes into serious decline.

Wallace and Lisa Taylor are divorced.

Vivian Malone Jones, one of the black students Wallace tried to stop from enrolling at the University of Alabama in 1963, receives an award honoring her courage from a foundation bearing Wallace's name.

September 13: George Wallace dies in Montgomery, Alabama, at 79.

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