George Corley Wallace (August 25, 1919 to 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).
In his high school days he was a regionally successful boxer before moving on to law school in the late 30s. After receiving his law degree in 1942 he enlisted in the US Air Force, flying combat missions over Japan.
In 1946 he won his first election, as a representative to the Alabama 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 its 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. In 1958 he was defeated by John Patterson in Alabama's gubernatorial election. 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. Soon afterward 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 forever".
On June 11, 1963 he stood in front of a schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop integration by the enrollment of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood; when confronted by federal marshals, Wallace stepped aside. Later in life he apologised for his views on integration.
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 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Alabama's constitution prevented him from seeking a second term in 1966, a restriction that was later repealed, largely due to the work of his backers.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 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 late 1968, when she was succeeded by Lt. Governor Albert Brewer, leaving Wallace somewhat out of power until he could mount a new bid for election in his own right in 1970. 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. This did not occur. Wallace ran a "law & 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, 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 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 primary there.
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 launching 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 the Pope.
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 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. Wallace would never walk or control his bowels again. 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.
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". 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.
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 saw a record number of black Alabamians appointed to government positions.
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.