George Wallace, the son of a farmer, was born in Clio, Alabama, on 25th August, 1919. He studied at the University of Alabama and received his law degree in 1942.
Wallace served in the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. After the war he became assistant attorney general of Alabama before being elected as a member of the Alabama Legislature in 1947. Wallace also served as judge of the Third Judicial District of Alabama (1953-1958).
A member of the Democratic Party, Wallace attempted in 1958 to become his party's candidate for governor of Alabama. His main rival, John Patterson, Alabama's Attorney General, was an outspoken segregationist who had become a popular hero with white racists by using the state courts to declare the NAACP in Alabama an illegal organization. Patterson was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and easily defeated Wallace.
After the election Patterson admitted that: "The primary reason I beat him (Wallace) was because he was considered soft on the race question." Wallace agreed and decided to drop his support for integration and was quoted as saying: "no other son-of-a-bitch will ever out-nigger me again".
One of the ways that Wallace improved his racist credentials was to recruit Asa Earl Carter as his main speechwriter in the 1962 election. Carter, the head of a Ku Klux Klan terrorist organisation, was one of the most extreme racists in Alabama. Carter wrote most of Wallace's speeches during the campaign and this included the slogan: "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!"
During the campaign to become governor of Alabama in 1962 he told audiences that if the federal government sought to integrate Alabama's schools, "I shall refuse to abide by any such illegal federal court order even to the point of standing in the schoolhouse door." Wallace campaign was popular with the white voters and he easily won the election.
In June 1963, Wallace blocked the enrollment of African American students at the University of Alabama. Similar actions in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile made him a national figure and one of the country's leading figures against the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King told one journalist in 1963 that Wallace was "perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today."
Wallace continued to resist the demands of John F. Kennedy and the federal government to integrate the Alabama's education system. On 5th September he ordered schools in Birmingham to close and told the the New York Times that in order to stop integration Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals."
A week later a bomb exploded outside the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four schoolgirls who had been attending Sunday school classes. Twenty-three other people were also hurt by the blast.
Alabama law barred Wallace from standing as governor for a second term in 1966. His wife, Lurleen Wallace, stood instead and her victory determined that Wallace would retain power.
In February, 1968, Wallace announced his intention of standing as an independent candidate for president. His hostility to civil rights legislation won him support from white voters in the Deep South and won Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Although he won over 9 million votes he came third to Richard Nixon ( 31,770,237) and Hubert Humphrey (31,270,533).
Nixon was concerned that Wallace would stand as a third party candidate in the next election. Nixon’s initial strategy was to destroy Wallace’s power base in Alabama. This included providing $400,000 to try and help Albert Brewer defeat Wallace as governor. This strategy failed and in 1970 Wallace won a landslide victory for a second term as governor of Alabama.
This failed and Richard Nixon had to change his strategy to one of blackmail. With the help of Murray Chotiner, Nixon discovered details of Wallace’s corrupt activities in Alabama. In July 1969, Nixon pressurized the IRS into forming the Special Services Staff (SSS). The role of the SSS was to target Nixon’s political enemies. By 1970 the SSS had compiled a list of 4,000 individuals. Most of this list were on the left. However, Nixon now added Wallace and several of his aides to this list. This included George’s brother, Gerald Wallace, who had indeed made a fortune from his business activities. This included a $2.9 million contract for asphalt that went to Gerald's company even though he charged a $2.50 per ton over the going price. By August 1970, the SSS had 75 people working on what was known as the “Alabama Project”.
To show that Nixon meant business, one of Wallace’s closest aides, Seymore Trammell, was sent to prison for 4 years for corruption. Nixon then used Winston Blount, his Postmaster General, to begin negotiations with Wallace. A deal was eventually struck with Wallace. In return for calling off the SSS Wallace made a statement that he would not become a third party candidate. On 12th January, 1972, Attorney General John N. Mitchell announced he was not going to prosecute Gerald Wallace. The following day Wallace gave a press conference where he announced he would not be a third party candidate.
It soon became certain that George McGovern would get the nomination of the Democratic Party. However, Wallace did much better than expected. Richard Nixon now feared that Wallace would not keep his promise and become a third party candidate. Polls suggested that virtually all of Wallace’s votes would come from Nixon’s potential supporters. If Wallace stood, Nixon faced the prospect of being defeated by McGovern.
On 15th May, 1972, Arthur Bremer tried to assassinate Wallace. at a presidential campaign rally in Laurel, Maryland. Wallace was hit four times. Three other people, Alabama State Trooper Captain E. C. Dothard, Dora Thompson, a Wallace campaign volunteer, and Nick Zarvos, a Secret Service agent, were also wounded in the attack.
Mark Felt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately took charge of the case. According to the historian Dan T. Carter (The Politics of Rage), Felt had a trusted contact in the White House: Charles Colson. Felt gave Colson the news. Within 90 minutes of the shooting Richard Nixon and Colson are recorded discussing the case. Nixon told Colson that he was concerned that Bremer might have ties to the Republican Party or, even worse, the Presidents re-election committee. Nixon also asked Colson to find a way of blaming George McGovern for the shooting.
Over the next few hours, Colson and Felt talk six times on the telephone. Felt gave Colson the address of Bremer's home. Colson now phoned E. Howard Hunt and asked him to break-in to Bremer's apartment to discover if he had any documents that linked him to Nixon or George McGovern. According to Hunt's autobiography, Undercover, he disliked this idea but made preparations for the trip. He claimed that later that night Colson calls off the operation.
At 5:00 p.m. Thomas Farrow, head of the Baltimore FBI, passed details of Bremer’s address to the FBI office in Milwaukee. Soon afterwards two FBI agents arrived at Bremer’s apartment block and begin interviewing neighbours. However, they do not have a search warrant and do not go into Bremer’s apartment.
At around the same time, James Rowley, head of the Secret Service, ordered one of his Milwaukee agents to break into Bremer’s apartment. It has never been revealed why Rowley took this action. It is while this agent is searching the apartment that the FBI discover what is happening. According to John Ehrlichman, the FBI was so angry when they discovered the Secret Service in the apartment that they nearly opened fire on them.
The Secret Service took away documents from Bremer’s apartment. It is not known if they planted anything before they left. Anyway, the FBI discovered material published by the Black Panther Party and the American Civil Liberties Union in the apartment. Both sets of agents now left Bremer’s apartment unsealed. Over the next 80 minutes several reporters enter the apartment and take away documents.
Charles Colson also phoned journalists at the Washington Post and Detroit News with the news that evidence had been found that Bremer is a left-winger and was connected to the campaign of George McGovern. The reporters were also told that Bremer is a “dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee”. The next day Bob Woodward (Washington Post) and Gerald terHost (Detroit News) publish this story.
The following day that the FBI discovered Bremer’s 137-page written diary in his blue Rambler car. The opening sentence was: "Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace." Nixon was initially suspected of being behind the assassination but the diary gets him off the hook. The diary was eventually published as a book, An Assassin's Diary (1973).
Wallace survived the assassination attempt. He gradually developed the view that one Nixon’s aides ordered the assassination. To gain revenge he announces he is to become a third party candidate. However, Wallace’s health has been severely damaged and reluctantly he had to pull out of the race.
In May, 1974, Martha Mitchell visited Wallace in Montgomery. She told him that her husband, John N. Mitchell, had confessed that Charles Colson had a meeting with Arthur Bremer four days before the assassination attempt.
Wallace ordered his own investigation into Bremer. He told friends that he was convinced that Nixon’s aides had arranged the assassination. Wallace gave an interview to Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times. Wallace told Nelson that the man seen talking to Bremer on the Lake Michigan Ferry looked very much like G. Gordon Liddy.
Wallace was partially paralyzed as a result of the attack by Arthur Bremer. After a long spell in hospital Wallace was able to return to politics. He apologized for his previous stance of civil rights and during the 1982 won the governorship with substantial support from African American voters.
Ill-health forced Wallace to retire from politics in 1987. He continued his support of integration and in March, 1995, Wallace attended the re-enactment of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march.
George Wallace died on 13th September, 1998.