George Wallace

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George Wallace (1968) signature

George Corley Wallace (born August 25, 1919 in Clio , Alabama , † September 13, 1998 in Montgomery , Alabama) was an American politician of the Democratic Party . He was elected governor of the state of Alabama four times (1963–1967, 1971–1979 and 1983–1987). As a representative of the conservative wing of the Democrats, he was an advocate of racial segregation in the southern states during his first term in office . He also ran for president four times ( 1964 , 1968 , 1972 and 1976 ).

Early years

Wallace became a regionally successful boxer in his high school days. He later studied law. After graduating in 1942, he joined the US Army Air Force (predecessor of the US Air Force ). He became a staff sergeant and flew combat missions over Japan with the 58th Bomb Group / XX Bomber Command's B-29 during World War II . Its commanding officer was General Curtis E. LeMay , who ran with him in 1968 as a vice-presidential candidate in the presidential campaign. During his military service, Wallace nearly died of a brain fever that permanently damaged his hearing and nervous system. He was discharged from the Air Force with a partial disability pension.

In May 1946, he won his first election to become a member of the Alabama House of Representatives . At the time he was one of the comparatively progressive voices when it came to racial issues. As a delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention , for example, he refused to participate when some delegates from the southern states left the room, although he was also against Harry S. Truman's position on civil rights , but mainly because he used federal laws against racial discrimination as a restriction on the rights of the individual states ( States' Rights ) considered; Harry Byrd and Strom Thurmond were among the proponents of this line . When he was inaugurated as governor in 1963, however, he justified this action with political arguments.

In 1953 he was elected as a Justice of the Alabama Third Judicial District. There he became known as the "Little Fighting Judge", a nod to his days as a boxer.

In 1958 he was defeated by John Malcolm Patterson in the Democratic primary for nomination as a candidate for governor. Since Alabama was almost always ruled by Democrats at the time, the primary was also the crucial choice. This defeat was decisive for Wallace's future political direction: Patterson had the support of the Ku Klux Klan , an organization Wallace had criticized during the election campaign; Wallace, however, had the support of the civil rights organization NAACP . After the election, Wallace promised: " I'll never be outniggered again ".

After his defeat, Wallace became a hardliner on "racial issues," and that position helped him win the white vote in the next gubernatorial election. In 1962 he was elected governor with a pro-racial election program that also emphasized the rights of the individual states vis-à-vis the federal government.

First term as governor

Katzenbach (right) in front of Governor George Wallace (left in the door) in front of the University of Alabama

In his inauguration speech in 1963, Wallace declared, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" These lines were written by Wallace's new speechwriter, Asa Carter . Wallace later claimed that he had not read that part of the speech before giving it and that he immediately regretted it.

On June 11, 1963 , he stood at the door of a building at the University of Alabama to prevent two African American students , Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling there, which would have violated the previous practice of racial segregation . After Assistant Secretary of Justice Nicholas Katzenbach was unable to convince him to step away, President Kennedy placed the Alabama National Guard under federal command and Commander Henry V. Graham ordered Wallace to step away. Then he cleared the way for the students.

In his I Have a Dream speech, Martin Luther King alluded to Wallace and his racist policies without mentioning his name.

On September 2, 1963, George Wallace dispatched the state police to prevent black children from entering integrated schools.

Another event in his first term was the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham , in which four African American girls were killed. Many civil rights activists saw Wallace and Birmingham's police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor as jointly responsible for the hateful atmosphere that led to the attack. Martin Luther King took this suspicion as an opportunity to phone Wallace to tell him that the blood of the murdered children was on his hands.

Presidential candidacy in 1964

The notoriety he gained in the University of Alabama controversy enabled him to run his first candidacy for president in 1964. He showed surprising strength in the primaries in Wisconsin , Maryland and Indiana , where he won up to a third of all votes. His image as an outsider and his message of state rights vis-à-vis the federal government appeared to be well received across the country. Nevertheless, he had no chance at the Democratic Party Congress against incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson , who was trying to get re-election.

The "power behind the throne"

The state constitution of Alabama did not allow the re-election of an incumbent governor at this time. It was only later that this rule was abolished, in particular due to the initiative of the Wallace camp. As a makeshift measure, Wallace had his wife Lurleen run for the 1966 term. It was well known that if they won the election, George Wallace himself would run the state. Ma Ferguson had already pursued this strategy of running for a replacement in the Texas gubernatorial election of 1917, when her husband was barred from running for impeachment.

Lurleen Wallace won the election, became Alabama's first female governor in 1967 and the only one until Kay Ivey was appointed in April 2017. However, she died of cancer in 1968. Lieutenant Governor Albert Brewer succeeded her in the office of governor, so that Wallace temporarily lost direct access to power. In 1970 he was able to apply for a new candidacy and reached his second term.

Presidential candidacy 1968

When Wallace ran for president in 1968, he ran not for the Democrats, but for the American Independent Party . His candidate for vice president was Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay . He hoped to get enough electors in Electoral College so that none of the candidates would get a majority and the President would have to be elected by the US House of Representatives. That would tip the scales, and he hoped the Southern states could tactically take advantage of this in Congress to swap their votes for concession from the other states, easing federal efforts to end segregation , could result.

However, this did not materialize. Wallace could only win the electoral votes of Alabama , Arkansas , Georgia , Louisiana and Mississippi (so-called Deep South ) and received a total of only 9,901,151 votes (13.5%) and 46 electors. In the same year, at the urging of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress.

Thematically, Wallace emphasized Law and Order in his election campaign , similar to the Republican candidate, former Vice President Richard Nixon (see Southern strategy ). The two major party candidates were both concerned that Wallace might vote for Nixon in the south, but also that he might vote for the Democratic candidate, incumbent Vice President Humphrey , in northern states with high unionized workers such as Michigan , Ohio and New Jersey To take away votes.

Wallace's underdog status again proved popular among voters, especially in the rural southern states, and he received the most votes in five of those states, so he narrowly missed the mark of having the House vote decided. He is the last person to receive votes in Electoral College who was not nominated by either party and was the first since Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond , who led a similar regional anti-integration campaign 20 years before him. In addition to the votes promised to him, he also received the vote of an elector from North Carolina who had been elected for Nixon.

Wallace was an entertaining campaigner for many, regardless of whether they shared his views. On hippies who accused him, a Nazi to be, he replied: "I have already fascists killed when their punks still in diapers . Lagt" To other hippies he set up the message: "You call me four-letter words (English .: Swear words, literally: words with four letters) after; I also have a few for you: SOAP and WORK. "When the city of Washington experienced a population decline due to the suburbanization of predominantly white residents, while African Americans stayed in the city, he commented:" You build a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia . ”Wallace was suggesting that many supporters of integration would prefer to move away from their black neighbors. Wallace also said that he disagreed with Abraham Lincoln on whether African Americans should vote, serve on jury or hold public office - although he did agree with Lincoln that equality for them could come with education, wealth and time.

Second term as governor

In 1970 he was elected Governor of Alabama for the second time.

The Republican President of the United States, Richard Nixon, tried to reduce Wallace's chances of running for president again. Therefore, Nixon supported the incumbent Governor of the Democrats, Albert Brewer in the primaries for the gubernatorial election in 1970 . Nixon also asked the tax authorities to investigate whether the Wallace campaign benefited from illegal donations. A poll conducted by the Gallup polling institute during this period showed that Wallace was the seventh most respected man among Americans, even before Pope Paul VI. who came in eighth place.

In the primaries for the democratic candidacy between Wallace and Brewer, a close race was looming. Wallace led an aggressive and negative election campaign against Governor Brewer. Among other things, he spread rumors that Brewer was homosexual and his wife an alcoholic . He portrayed Brewer as weak in leadership, as a puppet of leftists and blacks , who surrendered them to the state. In one of the last openly racist election campaigns in US history , Wallace narrowly prevailed. Historians consider the 1970 Alabama Democratic primary election to be "the dirtiest campaign ever." Albert Brewer later said that if such an election campaign was necessary to become governor, he would be happy to forego it.

In the spring of 1972 Wallace declared his renewed candidacy for the office of US President; this time, however, he wanted to be nominated for the Democrats again. In Florida , he won the primary elections in every county of the state with a total of 42% of the vote against the left-wing candidate George McGovern , against Hubert H. Humphrey , who was nominated in 1968, and against nine other candidates. Even so, McGovern was ultimately nominated as a challenger to President Nixon . In the run-up to his nomination, he declared that he had changed his mind on racial segregation and had always held moderate views.


During a campaign appearance in Laurel, Maryland in May 1972, Wallace was shot in an assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer . Three other people were injured in the shooting; all survived. Bremer's diary, published after his arrest under the title An Assassin's Diary , showed that the act was not motivated by politics, but by the desire to become famous. President Nixon was also considered as a possible target by Bremer. The assassination left Wallace paralyzed as one of the bullets remained in his spinal cord .

After he was assassinated, Wallace won the primary elections in Maryland , Michigan , Tennessee , and North Carolina . In a wheelchair he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Miami in the summer of 1972. The Democratic candidate, Senator George McGovern from South Dakota , was clearly defeated by incumbent Nixon, losing in 49 of 50 states.

Wallace was recovering in a hospital in Maryland, outside of his home state. According to the Alabama Constitution, Vice-Governor Jere Beasley served as acting governor from June 5 to July 7.

Candidacy 1975/76

In November 1975, Wallace announced his fourth and final bid for president. The campaign that followed was overshadowed by voters' fears about his health problems. His supporters said the media was painting a picture of Wallace's helplessness because of prejudice, referring to the paralysis of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt three decades earlier. After Wallace lost several primary elections in his stronghold, the southern states, to former governor of Georgia and eventual election winner Jimmy Carter , he dropped out of the race in July 1976.

Change of views

During his final years in office in the late 1970s, he transformed himself into a "born again Christian, " apologizing to former civil rights leaders for his earlier views on racial segregation and calling them false. He also said that he used to strive for power and fame, but now sees that he should seek love and forgiveness. Wallace confessed that his racist views and rhetoric may have caused psychological pain for blacks. In his last tenure as governor (1983-1987) he appointed an unprecedented number of African-Americans in government positions.

Second and third marriage

George Wallace was married twice more after the death of his wife, both marriages ended in divorce. In 1971 he married Cornelia Ellis Snively, a niece of former Alabama Governor Jim Folsom ( Big Jim ), and the couple divorced in 1978. In 1981 he married Lisa Taylor , a country singer; the relationship ended in 1987.

Representation in the film

  • The biographical feature film Wallace from 1997 portrays his life.
  • Excerpts from Wallace's speeches are featured in Spike Lee's film Four Little Girls .
  • For the film Forrest Gump , actor Tom Hanks was added to television footage of the enrollment of the first black students at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963.
  • In the 2014 film Selma , set during the civil rights movement that then Governor Wallace publicly opposed, Wallace was portrayed by actor Tim Roth .


Individual evidence

  1. Quotation: I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
  2. ^ Samuel Chamberlain: Robert Bentley: Alabama governor resigns over sex scandal. In: Fox News , April 10, 2017.
  3. ^ Before the Storm , Rick Perlstein, p. 317
  4. Kerwin Swint: Mudslingers: The twenty-five dirtiest political campaigns of all time . Union Square, New York, 2006 ISBN 1-4027-5736-0 , pp. 223ff.

Web links

Commons : George Wallace  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files