George Wallace

Former Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, who built his political career
on segregation and spent a tormented retirement arguing that he was not a
racist in his heart, died Sunday night at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery.

He was 79 and lived in Montgomery, Ala.

Wallace died of respiratory and cardiac arrest at 9:49 p.m., said Dana

Beyerly, a spokeswoman for Jackson Hospital in Montgomery.

Wallace had been in declining health since being shot in his 1972
presidential campaign by a 21-year-old drifter named Arthur Bremer.

Wallace, a Democrat who was a longtime champion of states' rights,
dominated his own state for almost a generation. But his wish was to be
remembered as a man who might have been president and whose campaigns for
that office in 1968, 1972 and 1976 established political trends that have
dominated American politics for the last quarter of the 20th century.

He believed that his underdog campaigns made it possible for two other

Southerners, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, to be taken seriously as
presidential candidates. He also argued ceaselessly that his theme of
middle-class empowerment was borrowed by Richard Nixon in 1968 and then
grabbed by another Californian, Ronald Reagan, as the spine of his
triumphant populist conservatism.

In interviews later in his life, Wallace was always less keen to talk
about his other major role in Southern history. After being elected to his
first term as governor in 1962, he became the foil for the huge protests
that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to destroy segregation in
public accommodations in 1963 and to secure voting rights for blacks in


As a young man, Wallace came boiling out of the sun-stricken,

Rebel-haunted reaches of southeast Alabama to win the governorship on his
second try. He became the only Alabamian ever sworn in for four terms as
governor, winning elections in 1962, 1970, 1974 and 1982. He retired at
the end of his last term in January 1987.

So great was his sway over Alabama that by the time he had been in office
only two years, other candidates literally begged him for permission to
put his slogan, "Stand Up for Alabama," on their billboards. Sens. John

Sparkman and Lister Hill, New Deal veterans who were powers in Washington
and the national Democratic Party, feared to contradict him in public when
he vowed to plunge the state into unrelenting confrontation with the
federal government over the integration of schools, buses, restrooms and
public places in Alabama.

It was a power built entirely on his promise to Alabama's white voting
majority to continue the historic oppression of its disfranchised and
largely impoverished black citizens. And it was snapshots of the peak
moments of Wallace's campaign of racial oppression that burned him into
the nation's consciousness as the Deep South's most forceful political
brawler since Huey Long of Louisiana.

First, on Jan. 14, 1963, there was his inaugural address, written by a
known Ku Klux Klansman, Asa Carter. In it, Wallace promised to protect the
state's "Anglo-Saxon people" from "communistic amalgamation" with blacks
and ended with the line that would haunt his later efforts to enter the

Democratic mainstream: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation

Wallace's next signature moment came on June 11, 1963, when he mounted his
"stand in the schoolhouse door" to block two black students, Vivian Malone
and James Hood, from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Within days, it was convincingly reported that Wallace, fearing jail for
defying a federal court order, had privately promised President John

Kennedy that he would step aside if first allowed to make a defiant

Wallace's in-state critics denounced him for a "charade" that embarrassed
the state. But the cold splash of reality did not dampen his plans to use

Alabama as a stepping stone to the national political arena and to the
anti-Big-government speeches by which he obsessively longed to be
remembered by history.

Wallace talked of running for president in 1964 as a neo-Dixiecrat
candidate. But he backed off when the Republican nominee, Sen. Barry

Goldwater of Arizona, came out against the bill that later became the 1964

Civil Rights Act. Goldwater's move undercut Wallace's trademark assertion
that "there's not a dime's worth of difference" between the two main
parties on race.

After the election, Wallace regretted his timidity because he thought

Goldwater had run a campaign of comical ineptitude, and when 1968 came
around, he invented a party, drafted the eccentric retired Air Force
general Curtis LeMay as his running mate, and began draining away the
lunch-pail vote from Nixon.

One reason for his success was that Wallace always campaigned "with the
tense urgency of a squirrel," in