Childhood & Early Life
George Corley Wallace, Jr. was born to George Corley Wallace, Sr. and Mozell Smith, in Clio, Barbour County, Southeast Alabama. He was raised a Methodist, just like his parents.
He involved himself in boxing when he was in high school and soon became a professional boxer, earning money from the sport. He then worked in a number of odd jobs and used the money that he collected, to study at the University Of Alabama Of Law. He graduated with an LL.B. degree, in 1942.
He joined the United States Army Air Corps, and although he failed to complete his course, he flew over Japan in 1945, as a staff sergeant.
During his tenure with the army, he had a near-death experience when he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. However, sulfa drugs saved his life. Nevertheless, he was released from the army with nerve damage and partial hearing loss.
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In 1945, he was appointed as the assistant attorney general of Alabama and the next year, he was elected as a member to the Alabama House of Representatives.
In 1952, he was elected as the Circuit Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, in Alabama and at the time, he was known for his liberal ways even with African-American members.
He was defeated by John Malcolm Patterson, in the primary election, in 1958. Patterson was an advocate of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that Wallace was against. He, however, supported the NAACP, an organization that worked to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.
After he lost the 1958 elections, Wallace shed his liberal image and became a staunch racist. In the 1962 elections for the governor of Alabama, he decided to make use of a racist campaign against the African-Americans; he won a landslide victory, and was elected as the governor.
He took the oath of office on January 14, 1963. His most infamous lines, ‘Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever’ were one of his first lines in his speech as the governor of Alabama.
In 1963, Wallace stood in front of the Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama, where he refused to let Black-American students enter the university and this event popularly came to be known as the ‘Stand in the Schoolhouse Door’.
The same year, he once again attempted to halt the entry of four black students from enrolling in a number of different schools in Huntsville, but in vain. He desperately wanted to retain segregationist ideas in order to become more ‘popular’ among the white majority in Alabama.
Towards the end of 1963, he entered the Democratic primaries, voiced strong opposition against John F. Kennedy, who was shot weeks later and also campaigned about taking a tough stance on crime. With his upfront campaign, he garnered nearly a third of the votes from Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland in Democratic primaries.
He could not seek a second term as Governor in 1966 due to term limits in Alabama constitution and thus, offered for Lurleen Burns Wallace to stand up as a candidate for the position of governor. She defeated two former governors and a U.S. Representative viz, Attorney General Richmond Flowers, Sr., James E. Folsom and Carl Elliot, respectively.
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During the general elections in 1966, his wife was elected as Governor, but her term was cut-short after her demise due to cancer.
In 1968, he ran for Presidential election as the American Independent Party candidate, for which he received major support from extremist groups like White Citizens’ Council. He lost the Presidential elections but won almost ten million popular votes and swept votes across five Southern states.
He was elected for the second term as Governor on January 18, 1971 after a series of aggressive campaigns using television as a medium, defeating Albert Brewer.
After he was appointed as governor, he flew to Wisconsin to campaign for the 1972 U.S. presidential election, where he declared himself a Democratic candidate. It was during this time, he stated that although he supported desegregation busing, he was always a ‘moderate’ on racial matters.
After a failed assassination attempt on May 15, 1972, he won primaries in Michigan and Maryland, but his left-side waist-down paralyses and the attempted assassination worked negatively for his campaign.
He easily won the 1974 elections for the again won the governor of Alabama by defeating Republican State Senator Elvin McCary.
In November 1975, he once again announced his bid for the presidency as the Democratic candidate but eventually lost the race to Jimmy Carter in the primaries.
In the late 1970s, Wallace renounced his racial approach and apologized to black leaders for his past actions.
In the 1982 general elections, he once again won and was made the Governor of Alabama for the last time from January 17, 1983 to January 19, 1987. During this term, he mellowed down as a segregationist and a number of African-Americans were appointed to the cabinet and other important state positions. He refused to campaign for other term, retiring after a total of 16 years in office.
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Personal Life & Legacy
He was married to Lurleen Brigham Burns, who passed away in 1968. They had four children together. After Lurleen’s death, his children were sent to live with relatives.
On January 4, 1971, he married Cornelia Ellis Snively. However, this marriage ended in divorce in 1978.
He then married country music singer, Lisa Taylor on September 9, 1981 and divorced her six years later.
He already suffered from permanent nerve damage and partial hearing loss in his younger days. The assassination attempt in 1972 left Wallace with a number of bullets lodged in his spine, his chest and abdomen. He was paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
He passed away of septic shock due to a bacterial infection at the Jackson Hospital, in Montgomery.
Today, the George Wallace Tunnel on Interstate 10 is named after him. The documentary ‘George Wallace: Settin’ The Woods on Fire’ and the film, ‘George Wallace’ were also based on his life and works.