George Wallace's Appointment in Laurel
(TIME, May 29, 1972) -- The tableau seemed gruesomely familiar: the flags and fustian, the candidate plowing through crowds attended by hard- eyed men not quite in control, the people reaching out to touch him. Then, abruptly, the little black gun exploding like a birthday-party favor -- pap pap pap pap pap in a smudge of gunsmoke. The candidate would capsize backward, the cameras would catch a wild, stricken frieze as his young wife knelt over him, staining her suit with his blood, and the bodyguards, an instant too late, would wrestle down some strange little drifter with a pistol welded to his hand.
Except that this time the victim survived. There would be no lying in state, no funeral train, no mournful services for the nation to attend by television. Like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral, Alabama's George Corley Wallace could savor both obsequies and survival. The morning after the shooting last week in a Maryland shopping center, Wallace, half-paralyzed, could lie in his hospital bed and feistily ask an aide: "Whatja got me scheduled for today?" The next day he would read the news of his primary triumphs in Maryland and Michigan.
If the attack was not fatal, it was a severe trauma -- not only to Wallace but also to the nation's democratic process. Again, it raised the old questions of violence in America, of whether political candidates in a democracy dared to risk campaigning face to face with the people. The gunshots at Laurel, Md., also jarred the 1972 campaign into a new perspective. It seemed more certain now that Edward Kennedy would be out of consideration as a convention draft choice to break a deadlock between Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. Anxiety about the infection of example led one official of the Democratic National Committee to comment: "After this, a Kennedy draft would be like asking a man to commit suicide."
The shooting also ensured that George Wallace will now haunt the 1972 campaign in a new and unpredictable way. With a resilience that was almost Snopesian, Wallace accomplished martyrdom and resurrection in a matter of hours. His strong, ex- boxer's body took four or five .38-cal. slugs, one of which remained planted in his spinal canal. The attack endowed Wallace with a new kind of stature. Although his doctors gave him only a marginal chance of walking again, editorial writers were quick to recall that F.D.R. campaigned with his legs paralyzed.
Popsicles. In any case, Wallace was determined to go on, and his followers across the nation were inspired by adversity. Fresh recruits hurried into his campaign offices to volunteer. With his victories in the Maryland and Michigan primaries, he could go to the Democratic Convention or send his ambassadors there -- armed with some 400 delegate votes. What he might do with that strength is difficult to foretell.
Wallace has always known what passions he aroused. From his earliest days as Governor of Alabama, standing in a schoolhouse door in 1963 to bar black students, or vowing "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," he has deliberately chosen race hatred as his theme. After one unsuccessful contest in the 1950s, he promised: "I'll never be out-niggered again." Wallace has sometimes been haunted by the danger of assassination.
He was worried about Maryland. "Somebody's going to get killed before this primary is over," he told a friend recently, "and I hope it's not me." In Hagerstown three weeks ago, young whites and blacks disrupted his speech to the point that police had to be called in. As Wallace left a rally the next week in Frederick, a brick hit him in the chest. That same day, University of Maryland students threw Popsicles at him.
Last week, Wallace's final day of campaigning before the primary had not been going well. At the Wheaton shopping plaza north of Washington, tomatoes and eggs arced out of the crowd as Wallace spoke at a noontime rally. As his entourage rolled into the Laurel shopping center at 3:15 for another rally, Wallace knew that he was in unfriendly country.
About 2,000 people had gathered on the parking lot in front of a specially erected stage. Everywhere were Maryland county police, Secret Service men and Wallace's own bodyguards. In place, as always, was Wallace's special, 600-lb. bulletproof podium, draped in red, white and blue.
Country-and-western Singer Billy Grammer and his three sidemen were warming up the crowd with Gotta Travel On and Detroit City. Grammer zinged his electric guitar into sprightly Dixie, and there was Wallace, smiling, with his customary "Hi, folks!" It was an odd intersection of Southern neighborliness and danger -- police gazes raking the crowd and Wallace all but lost behind his armor-plating.
Wallace was not at his best that day. When he took out in his standard speech after those "pointy-headed intellectuals who can't park their bicycles straight," his voice cracked. Time and again he referred to "Princess George County"; Laurel is in Prince Georges County. From the rear, collegians laughed and shouted: "Go back to Alabama. You don't even know where you are."
Wallace plunged on -- against "social schemers" and "ultra- false liberals." After 50 minutes, he advised the folks to vote in the primary "to shake the eyeteeth of the Democratic Party. Let's give 'em the St. Vitus dance. And tell 'em a vote for George Wallace is a vote for the average citizen."
Rapid Fire. The applause was thunderous. As Billy Grammer and his men plugged their instruments into amplifiers again, Wallace walked down the steps from the stage and decided to shake a few hands, as he often does after speeches. An aging woman near by, in Wallace blouse and Wallace hat, shouted groupie-fashion: "Over here, George, over here!" He took off his jacket and handed it to an aide, then moved to his left to work down a line of supporters behind a cordon. "Nice to see ya," he said. "Nice to see ya."
Among the crowd, in opaque sunglasses and short, pale blond hair, was a 21-year-old from Milwaukee named Arthur Bremer. Almost a parody of the failed young loners from renter rooms who seem to end up assassinating American politicians, Bremer had apparently been stalking Wallace for weeks. Now, as Wallace moved easily through the crowd, Bremer suddenly thrust his arm through a ring of onlookers. In rapid fire, about 18 inches from his target, he blasted five shots from his snub-nosed revolver. Even as he was shooting, security men jammed his arm downward and fell on him.
Wallace flipped back onto the asphalt and lay there, conscious but stunned. Blood streamed from his right arm, and oozed through his shirt at the lower right ribs. Alabama State Trooper Captain E.C. Dothard, wounded in the stomach, fell in front of TIME Correspondent Joseph Kane. Near by, Secret Service Agent Nicholas Zarvos clutched a wound in his throat. Dora Thompson, a local Wallace worker slumped to the ground with a bullet in her right leg. Billy Grammer's rendition of Under the Double Eagle stopped in mid-bar. As a blanket of police smothered Bremer, there were shrieks and isolated cries of "Kill him! Kill him!"
Though ashen from shock and loss of blood, Wallace never lost consciousness. After a seemingly interminable ten minutes, an ambulance arrived. Then it was 25 more minutes from Laurel to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. Wallace spent much of the time consoling his terrified wife Cornelia.
By nightfall, a team of Holy Cross surgeons were at work on Wallace. Four, perhaps all five of the bullets had struck him. Two apparently passed through his right arm and shoulder; another glanced off his left shoulder blade. One crashed through his abdomen, perforating his stomach and nicking his large intestine; it was removed.
But the real problems came from a slug that entered the fluid-filled spinal canal and came to rest head downward opposite the first lumber vertebra, just at the waist. At week's end the doctors still could not say whether the bullet severed all or part of the bundle of nerves that carries impulses from the lower body to the brain. But in any case, the effect could be devastating. The very impact of the bullet probably bruised the delicate nerve tissue severely, causing grave injury. Wallace reported no feeling in his legs; neither his bladder nor bowels were functioning voluntarily. Even after the bullet is removed, the doctors have only "slim hope" that Wallace will be able to walk without at least the aid of braces.
News of the shooting flashed across the nation galvanically. From previous experience in such affairs, many Americans automatically assumed that Wallace would not survive. Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern instantly suspended campaigning. Humphrey, who had been electioneering in Baltimore, went immediately to the hospital to console Mrs. Wallace. "I don't know," he said disconsolately. "We didn't seem to learn anything four years ago." President Nixon dispatched Presidential Physician William Lukash to Holy Cross. He also ordered immediate Secret Service protection for Ted Kennedy as well as for Representatives Shirley Chisholm of New York and Wilbur Mills of Arkansas.
Between Traumas. Immediately, the long-dormant issue of gun control came alive again, just as it had in 1968 after Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot down. As the Atlanta Constitution observed, it seemed lost on Wallace supporters that the issues of gun control and law-and-order were intertwined, not mutually exclusive principles. After Laurel, a Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency voted out a proposal that would allow the public sale of "Saturday night specials," cheap and ubiquitous pistols. But the bill will still meet tough opposition in the Judiciary Committee, which has not been sympathetic to gun control in the past, and on the Senate floor, where National Rifle Association lobbyists have consistently frustrated such legislation. Says Illinois Representative Abner Mikva: "In between traumas, nobody seems to care much."
One of the first reactions to the Wallace attack was "Thank God it wasn't done by a black man." It is difficult to predict what racial vengeance that might have stirred. As it was, some blacks reacted to the news with satisfaction, or even bitter glee. A black Humphrey worker in Baltimore said after the shooting: "I'm celebrating tonight. As far as I'm concerned, that little cracker bastard was shot 52 years too late. If you live by disrespecting the law, you will die by it." Roy Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equality, said: "You might say this was the chicken come home to roost. But that would be unkind." Most other blacks, however, remembering the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., simply deplored more violence. Said the Rev. Jesse Jackson: "Killing can no longer be justified, whether it is in Vietnam or Maryland or Memphis."
As a sheer political happening, the shooting of George Wallace was melodramatically timed. The very next morning, the voters of Michigan and Maryland went to the primary polls to give Wallace two of the most impressive victories of his career. In Maryland, Wallace took 39% of the vote, trailed by Humphrey with 27% and McGovern with 22%.
In Michigan, the two major candidates had all but conceded the primary to Wallace. The busing issue was too hot. But the surprise was the extraordinary breadth of Wallace's victory. He came in with 51% of the vote, v. 27% for McGovern and a humiliating 16% for Humphrey.
In a survey for TIME by the attitude research firm of Daniel Yankelovich, Inc., 66% of voters interviewed at the polls said that crime and violence was one of the primary issues of the campaign -- which may have been in part a reflection of the Wallace shooting the afternoon before. The poll also disclosed that, as seemed to be the case in Maryland, there were few voters who switched to Wallace in sympathy over the shooting. Reports TIME Correspondent Gregory Wierzynski: "Interviews with Wallace voters left me with the impression that the man had grown into something much bigger than the regional candidate he was in Wisconsin. An impressive number of people expressed genuine admiration, almost reverence, for Wallace."
Humphrey was the day's big loser. In two states where labor and blacks -- his old allies -- are important, he averaged a meager one-fifth of the vote. It was a bad omen as Humphrey looked forward to California on June 6. His coalition showed at least some signs of disintegration.
Stand-Ins. Wallace's political future is unpredictable. Last week was certainly the crest of his ill-planned but impressive drive through the primaries. All through the spring, in fact, Wallace has had the air of a man astonished by his own successes; with his ramshackle organization, one basic, evangelical speech and paper buckets to take up the collection, his victories have left him wondering whether he should not have attempted more. There were no primary states left in which he had arranged extensive campaigns even before the shooting -- although last week from his hospital room he ordered his men to go ahead with more rallies and TV ads in Rhode Island, Oregon and New Mexico. In California, local groups have organized a write-in campaign. Where public appearances are called for, Wallace's men are setting up a kind of speaker's bureau of stand-ins. Among the volunteers: former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty, now a dean at Alabama's Troy State University, and Georgia's Lieut. Governor Lester Maddox.
It may be that Cornelia Wallace herself would make the perfect stand-in if George's convalescence will not permit him to get around. It would hardly be a novel solution for Wallace, who ran his first wife Lurleen for Governor of Alabama when he ran into a state constitutional snag about succeeding himself in 1966.
It is possible that Wallace's week of pain and victory will recede into comparative political unimportance as the primary campaign swings into crucial two-man contests between Humphrey and McGovern next month in delegate-rich California and New York. McGovern's aides expect their candidate to win California, with its winner-take-all package of 271 delegates, and follow that with a big delegate harvest in New York. Expecting that enough uncommitted and Muskie delegates will join them then, McGovern's supporters hope to muster the required 1,509 delegates on the first ballot at Miami Beach. Says McGovern Adviser Mike Feldman: "He won't have to deal with Wallace at all."
Humphrey's camp plans on roughly the reverse scenario. But a number of Democratic professionals can envision a situation in which McGovern and Humphrey each fetch up 300 or 400 delegates short of the nomination. "In the absence of a first-ballot nomination for McGovern," says one Democratic official, "Wallace and his votes could be a major factor in determining what happens on the second ballot."
But it is difficult to imagine what kind of accommodation either McGovern or Humphrey could make with George Wallace. Neither would bend very far to Wallace on civil rights. Some have suggested that one of them might somehow wind up with Wallace as a running mate, but even in a curious political year, the idea seemed farfetched. Yet according to one shrewd Southern observer, the vice presidency may be exactly what Wallace has in mind. Says South Carolinian Harry Dent, a political adviser to President Nixon: "He'd like to get a platform he can crow over. But he knows that platforms don't amount to much. He wants somebody to bend over him and say `Uncle.' He wants respectability. I think he sees visions of a vice-presidential nomination."
Go Ahead. Very probably Wallace himself does not know what he will do. If he recuperates sufficiently to return to action, even from a wheelchair, he has other options. Most dramatically he could bolt form the party, run in the general election as an independent candidate, and try to throw the election into the House, where he might hope to strike a bargain in exchange for his support. He would cut into the Democrats' blue-collar strength in the North, yet he would also cost Richard Nixon crucial electoral votes in the South. Harry Dent claims that the Republicans would suffer more from a third-party Wallace candidacy, while Democratic National Chairman Lawrence O'Brien says that the Democrats stand to lose the most.
Apart from affecting Wallace's prospects, the Laurel shooting raised depressing questions about the future of political campaigning in the U.S. Would candidates more and more retreat from crowds, withdrawing to armored podiums and television studios in fear that another Bremer or Sirhan or Oswald might be waiting? There seemed no sign of that for the present. Both George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey indicated last week that they would have to continue campaigning as before. Each candidate is now protected by squads of Secret Service men, at a cost of $200,000 a month for each detail, yet there seems ultimately no way of guaranteeing a public man's safety.
The morning after Wallace was shot, President Nixon was walking outside the White House and deliberately plunged into a crowd of tourists. One man said pointedly: "It is good of you to come out in public, Mr. President." Another tourist stood beside Nixon and asked a friend to take their picture together. Without thinking, Nixon smiled and replied: "Go ahead and shoot."
Cornelia: Determined to "Make Do"
Her dark eyes misty but her soft voice carefully controlled, Cornelia Wallace courageously faced television cameras shortly after the shooting of her husband. She proclaimed his determination to recover: "He didn't earn the title of the `Fighting Little Judge' for nothing." She had passed the word that the Governor would continue to campaign "in a wheelchair if necessary," and that in the meantime she was willing to carry on for him on the campaign trail. Those who know Cornelia Wallace well are confident that her special blend of charm and toughness would make her a highly effective substitute.
The political role would be a new one for Cornelia. Since their marriage 16 months ago, she has mainly preferred just to walk on with George, wave to the crowd and be there at day's end to provide what she has called "the emotional response" that he needs when he gets so "very lonely" while traveling. Cornelia, who is 33 (19 years younger than her husband), is smart, ambitious for both him and herself and experienced in the ways of politics. Although she sees herself more as "a Huck Finn" than "a Southern belle," her favorite fictional heroine is Scarlett O'Hara. "You saw what she did with that lumber company," Cornelia recently recalled. "When she had to, she took over that business and made a success of it. She made do for herself." In the face of her husband's probably permanent paralysis, Mrs. Wallace is determined to "make do" for him.
Cornelia first met Wallace at a party in the Alabama Governor's mansion when her uncle James ("Kissin' Jim") Folsom was a party-loving Governor and she was only eight years old. "My two little cousins and I were peeping down the stairs in our nightgowns and the Wallaces saw us. They walked up the stairs and talked to us and held us." At the time, Wallace, a state legislator, was married to his first wife, Lurleen, who died of cancer in 1968 after succeeding him as Governor in the same mansion.
A country girl actually raised in a log cabin in Elba, Ala. ("We used to go fishing for mud fish in the Pea River -- that's what it was called"), Cornelia heard constant talk of politics from her twice-widowed mother, Ruby Folsom Ellis Austin, who served as official hostess for her brother before he remarried. [As colorful a character as her brother Jim, Ruby Folsom was seen by some as a possible competitor of her daughter's for Wallace's affections. "Shooot, honey," scoffed Ruby, who is nearly six feet tall, "He ain't even titty high." After she campaigned for George this year in Florida, some on the Wallace staff seemed to consider her an embarrassment, and she was miffed. "Ah'm scared they're gonna tell George ah was drinkin' too much and showin' my fanny," she told a Washington Post reporter.] Cornelia's father, Charles G. Ellis, a civil engineer, died in 1960. At Montgomery's Methodist Huntingdon College and Florida's Rollins College, Cornelia studied voice and piano. Then she slipped into what she calls "my little hillbilly jag." She sang and played guitar, toured Australia and Hawaii with Country Singer Roy Acuff, and wrote and performed two recorded songs for MGM: It's No Summer Love and Baby with the Barefoot Feet.
Her tawny good looks and shapely legs (she is 5 ft. 6 in., one inch shorter than George) carried her to the semifinals of a Miss Alabama contest before she became the star of the Cypress Gardens water ski show in Florida -- and married John Snively III, a millionaire whose family at one time owned the Gardens. After seven years of marriage and two sons, Jim and Josh, the Snivelys were divorced in 1969.
Although Wallace had beaten Folsom in a primary election for Governor in 1962, he still remained friends with Cornelia and her mother. About a year after Lurleen died, he began calling Cornelia and saying, "I think I'll just come over for a few minutes." To avoid publicity, the two at first dated only at her home or at little-known restaurants. She found him "very appealing and very physical," but also "very Victorian." He still "won't even say the word sexy," she notes, and he will not let her wear her skirts as short as she would like. But otherwise he lets her pursue such high-spirited diversions as driving the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 at 100 m.p.h. She has regretted not being able to see their children (Wallace has four) much while campaigning, but has told them: "Your father's work must come first. You've got to mold your life around his."
Although Cornelia has never interfered with her husband's political operations, she seems tougher than his Governor-wife Lurleen. Learning that one of Wallace's aides was poor-mouthing his chances of becoming President, she braced the man, threatened to get him fired if he expressed such a sentiment again.
When George failed to introduce her as the two met some guests at one political meeting, she turned to a group of reporters and snapped: "Does he think I'm a little doll he can drag around all day and then just pull a string when he wants to?" Yet such moods pass swiftly, and Cornelia seems totally devoted to George and his career. "God made woman for man as a companion," she contends. As two other Southern Governors noted privately last week, George Wallace has an excellent chance for political survival because his companion is Cornelia.
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