In her striking new book, “The Broken Road,” Peggy Wallace Kennedy describes growing up in the throes of the hate speech and violence emboldened by her father, the longtime governor of Alabama and four-time presidential candidate. George Wallace is remembered as one of the most consequential figures of the Civil Rights era, best known for standing on the steps of the University of Alabama to personally block the enrollment of African American students and for allowing the violent suppression of civil rights activists during peaceful protests. “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” declared Wallace when he was inaugurated as governor in 1963. Two years later, Martin Luther King Jr., called Wallace “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today.”
Wallace first ran for president in 1964, losing the Democratic nomination to Lyndon B. Johnson. Four years later, he launched an independent run on a segregationist platform that won him five Southern states and 46 pledged electoral votes. He is the most recent third-party candidate to have won pledged electoral votes. He has been called a populist as well as a segregationist, and “the most influential loser” in 20th century American politics.
Wallace made another attempt at the presidency in 1972, but his campaign ended when he was paralyzed in an assassination attempt by a janitor named Arthur Bremer.
In the late 1970s, Wallace became a born-again Christian, forgave Bremer and renounced his own racist legacy. After meeting with African American leaders, he travelled to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church to beg for forgiveness.
Peggy Wallace Kennedy says she didn’t agree with her father’s policies when she was a young girl. But it wasn’t till after his death that she found her voice — thanks to an unlikely friendship with civil rights leader John Lewis, who was a victim of Wallace’s state police during the famous “Bloody Sunday” Selma to Montgomery march. “John Lewis,” she says, “gave me the courage to start speaking out.”
Kennedy hopes her story of hatred and redemption will have a positive impact on civil discourse in America today, which she fears has become extreme again. Watch the video to see her sharp-eyed impressions of how America has changed in the past half-century, and how it hasn’t.