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Wallace remembered as man with 'courage to change'

Funeral, burial Wednesday for former Alabama governor

Casket
Wallace's casket is carried from funeral services at the First United Methodist Church  

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) -- With his coffin draped in the red and white flag of the state he dominated for three decades, former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace was eulogized Wednesday as a passionate, talented man who later in life was not afraid to admit to the errors of his segregationist past.

"He knew both victory and defeat; he displayed courage; he endured pain. He experienced the roar of men's applause and the shattering gun blast of despair," said the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, in his eulogy.

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"He accepted God's forgiveness when he confessed and repented of his sins. The result was that he was changed and became a man redeemed," Graham said. "He received forgiveness from communities that once saw him as their enemy. The result was that he became a trusted friend."

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"He had the courage to change," said Gov. Fob James, who said Wallace's political transformation on race issues paralleled that of Alabama. "He had a message and he believed in it ... the message of reconciliation."

Buried next to first wife

Wallace, 79, who served four terms as Alabama's governor and made four bids for the White House, died Sunday at a Montgomery hospital from heart failure. He had been ill for a number of years, suffering from complications from a 1972 assassination attempt that left him paralyzed.

Nearly 1,000 people crowded into Wallace's funeral service at the First United Methodist Church. Later in the afternoon, Wallace was buried with full military honors at Montgomery's Greenwood Cemetery, complete with a 21-gun salute, the playing of "Taps" by buglers and a flyover by a formation of Alabama Air National Guard jets.

Graham
The Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, speaks at Wallace's funeral  

Wallace was buried next to his first wife, former Gov. Lurleen Wallace, who died in office in 1968. His second wife, Cornelia, whom he later divorced, attended the funeral services.

"I thought it was lovely," she said afterward. "They played his favorite song, 'Amazing Grace.' ... It was the kind of music that was the cornerstone of his belief."

Earlier, at the Capitol, a host of state political leaders attended a memorial service inside the historic House chamber, where the Confederacy was organized in 1861, to offer prayers and reminiscences of Wallace.

"He was what we call a populist," said former Gov. John Patterson, who beat Wallace in the 1958 governor's race. "He did more to improve the lives of the people of Alabama than any other person in our state."

'Forgive and forget'

Wallace's open casket had lain in state since Tuesday in the Capitol's rotunda. About 25,000 people filed past to pay their respects.

Many blacks were among those mourning a man who, at his first inauguration in 1963, had vowed "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and later stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to prevent two black students from enrolling.

In the years after he was shot in 1972, Wallace renounced his segregationist views, began reaching out to black voters and appointed African Americans to state positions.

At Wednesday's funeral, a black pastor read Psalm 23. Two black National Guardsmen folded the flag on the coffin and presented it to James, who then presented it to the Wallace family.

"We have to learn to forgive and forget," said Reedie Russell, a black worker at Maxwell Air Force Base who also came to the rotunda. "This was history being laid to rest."

Graham traced Wallace's change of heart on racial issues to his conversion as a born-again Christian.

"I believe that if the governor were here, he would want to be remembered for this: Jesus Christ today, Jesus Christ tomorrow, Jesus Christ forever," Graham said.

Ran for president four times

A fiery populist born in 1919 in the small southeastern Alabama town of Clio, Wallace, a Democrat, was a state legislator and a judge before being elected governor in 1962. The state constitution then limited governors to one term, so, in 1966, his wife Lurleen ran in his stead. But she died of cancer before completing her term.

Wallace was elected again to the governorship in 1970, 1974 and 1982. He ran for the presidency in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976.

His most serious bid came as a third-party candidate in 1968, when he carried five Southern states, garnered 10 million votes and helped tip the election away from Democrat Hubert Humphrey toward Republican Richard Nixon.

In 1972, Wallace was making a strong run for the Democratic nomination when he was shot while campaigning in Maryland. Though he won primaries in Maryland and Michigan on the day after the assassination attempt, his severe injuries eventually ended his campaign and, it turned out, his national political aspirations.

But he continued to run and win elections in Alabama, with increasing levels of black support, until poor health forced him to retire from public life for good in 1987.


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Wednesday, September 16, 1998



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