Former Gov. George Wallace Takes High Road to Redemption

In his inaugural address as Alabama governor in 1963, George Wallace roared into a cold January wind: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

"I am sorry," he told the Monitor as he reminisced about that doomed objective. "I now believe segregation was wrong, and it's good that it is gone."

"I've never been a racist," he explains. "I did what the people of Alabama wanted me to do in that day."

These days Mr. Wallace preaches racial harmony at every opportunity. Last month he made his peace with James Hood, a black student the governor tried to keep out of the University of Alabama (UA) in a defiant 1963 showdown with Washington.

Wallace also accepted Mr. Hood's invitation to attend his graduation next May at UA, where he returned last fall to work on his doctorate.

"Here in Alabama, the people understand that I am really sorry," Wallace says.

Last March he invited himself to the 30th anniversary ceremonies of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march, where his state troopers once used billy clubs and tear gas on protesters.

"May your message be heard," he told the reassembled crowd. "May your lessons never be forgotten. May our history be always remembered."

Ironically, history haunts his segregationist past. "Like the imagined indelible bloodstain on Lady Macbeth's hands, the stains of racism on Wallace's reputation will never be washed away," wrote Stephan Lesher in a 1994 biography, "George Wallace: American Populist." But, Mr. Lesher continues, he was "an important issue maker of his times," and influenced leaders from Richard Nixon to Newt Gingrich.

But the main issue for Wallace today is the road to redemption. "It's been a difficult journey," he says. "But I made it the best that I can."

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