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Byline: Kendall Weaver Associated Press

Former Gov. George C. Wallace, the one-time firebrand segregationist who was paralyzed by a would-be assassin's bullet as he campaigned for the presidency in 1972, died Sunday. He was 79.

Wallace, a lifelong Democrat who late in life began supporting some Republican candidates, had battled Parkinson's disease as well as the lingering effects of his wounds. He had been hospitalized repeatedly.

Wallace entered the hospital Thursday, suffering from breathing problems and septic shock caused by a severe bacterial infection. He also had been hospitalized this summer with similar problems.

As a third-party candidate in 1968, Wallace received nearly 10 million presidential votes and seemed poised to do as well four years later when he was shot.

He had gained national notoriety in the early 1960s when he vowed ``segregation forever'' and stood in an Alabama schoolhouse door to keep African-Americans from enrolling. But ultimately he won an unprecedented fourth term as governor with the help of African-American voters.

``We thought it was in the best interests of all concerned. We were mistaken,'' he told an African-American group during his last gubernatorial campaign, in 1982. ``The Old South is gone'' but ``the New South is still opposed to government regulation of our lives.''

A political legend in a region long accustomed to fiery oratory, Wallace dominated the state for the better part of two decades before bowing out of politics with the April 1986 announcement that he would not seek a fifth term.

Urging voters to ``send 'em a message,'' Wallace made four runs at the presidency, including the 1968 contest in which he won five Southern states and 46 electoral votes.

He married three times and put his first wife in the governor's chair when state law barred him from succeeding himself.

As the South reeled from civil rights clashes and the bombing of African-American churches during his early career, Wallace loomed as a symbol of racial oppression across the region.

But after being crippled by gunshots and forced to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Wallace no longer was the jut-jawed, fist-shaking figure who threatened to ``shake the eye teeth'' of the establishment.

Mellowed into populist

Late in life, the shrewd firebrand segregationist had mellowed into a populist who pledged to help poor people of all colors. His election to a fourth term in 1982 was built on a coalition including the African-American voters he once scorned, and he was courted by liberal members of his party.

Removed from the political spotlight, he worried that history would remember him only for his segregationist defiance.

Stephan Lesher, who wrote a 1994 biography of Wallace, ``American Populist,'' with the former governor's cooperation, said that even though Wallace recanted his racial stands, he will always be remembered most as the man who cried ``segregation forever'' and stood in the schoolhouse door.

``It's like the blood stains on Lady Macbeth's hands,'' Lesher said. ``He will never be able to wash out the stains of racism.''

George Corley Wallace was born Aug. 25, 1919, in Clio, in the rural, row-crop country of southeastern Alabama. His father was a farmer and county commissioner, his mother a county health worker.

The short, dark-eyed farm boy became a scrappy Golden Gloves boxer. He earned his law degree from the University of Alabama, and served in World War II as a flight engineer on B-29 bombing missions over the Pacific.

After the war, he became an assistant state attorney general, then ran successfully for the Alabama House of Representatives in 1946.

When he won election as a circuit judge in 1952, he used his court post to become known as ``the fightin' little judge'' for battling federal authorities over African-Americans' voting records.

In his first race for governor in 1958, he lost the Democratic primary to John Patterson, who had taken a harder line than Wallace in support of racial segregation. Wallace reportedly vowed that he would never be ``out-segged'' again.

He was successful on his next try in 1962. On Jan. 14, 1963, as bands decked in Rebel uniforms played ``Dixie,'' Wallace took the oath of office beneath the white-domed capitol where Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as president of the Confederacy a century before.

``Let us rise to the call of the freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South,'' Wallace told the crowd.

``In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. And I say . . . segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.''

In a matter of months he made his celebrated ``stand in the schoolhouse door,'' an unsuccessful bid to block the entrance of two African-Americans to the University of Alabama.

At a shopping center in Laurel on May 15, 1972, Wallace plunged into a crowd of well-wishers to shake hands. Suddenly a blond man in dark glasses lunged forward with a gun.

``The next thing I knew, I heard five firecracker-sounding pops . . .,'' Wallace recalled later. ``I felt no shots, but I felt myself falling. I attempted to move my legs, and I knew immediately I was paralyzed.''



PHOTO (color) George Wallace
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Sep 14, 1998

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