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Wallace honors black woman he tried to block from school

stood firm

Award symbolizes change of heart on segregation

October 11, 1996
Web posted at: 6:55 p.m. EDT

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From Correspondent Brian Cabell

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) -- George Wallace is a changed man.

In 1963, he was the arch-segregationist governor of Alabama, determined -- even in the face of National Guard troops -- to keep two African-American students out of the University of Alabama.

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jones award "I do hereby denounce and forbid this illegal and unwarranted action by the central government," Wallace said in Tuscaloosa on June 11, 1963, as he stood in the doorway of the campus auditorium where Vivian Malone and James Hood were to register for classes.

That was then.

On Thursday night, Wallace gave Vivian Malone Jones, a special honor. Jones, who endured two years of verbal harassment and ostracism at the university before graduating in 1965, received the first annual courage award named in honor of Lurleen Wallace, the former governor's late wife.

Apology accepted

The ceremony in Montgomery was Jones' first meeting with Wallace, 77, who is crippled by Parkinson's disease and must use a wheelchair following a 1972 assassination attempt. He has long admitted that his stand on segregation was wrong, an apology that Jones, 54, accepted long ago. (13 sec./262K AIFF or WAV sound)icon


Hood, who met Wallace for the first time in July, said he also has forgiven the former governor, considering Alabama's political climate during the 1960s.

The Wallace family, who will use the award to recognize women who have made major improvements in Alabama, says the former governor had a say in choosing Jones as the first recipient.

"The courage award is given to a woman who has overcome adversity ... to advance herself and the state," daughter Peggy Wallace Kennedy said.

Wallace's son, former state Treasurer George Wallace Jr., presented the award -- a glass eagle -- to Jones, honoring her for her courage in integrating the university and becoming the first black graduate.

"I would have preferred for it not to have happened but it did," Jones said as she received the first Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage.

Private comments

Wallace is said to be in constant pain and made no public comments at Thursday night's ceremony. But he did speak privately to Jones.

"He said he felt the state of Alabama is better now than it was then as a result of what has happened through the integration and the desegregation of the schools here," she said.

Wallace's 1963 doorway confrontation was largely symbolic. Then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy forced the integration but allowed Wallace to make a speech about states' rights before stepping aside to let the students in.

'Still struggling'

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was 9 at the time, attended Thursday night's ceremony, which he saw as "a moment of reconciliation and redemption." He praised Wallace for admitting he made a mistake in supporting segregation.

"I'm just happy that ... we can come tonight to celebrate a change -- a change of attitude, a change of feelings about what's happening in this state," Jones said. The Mobile, Alabama, native who later moved to Atlanta, retired last week from a job with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite the changes in Alabama, she said much remains to be done. "We are still struggling with economic and social injustice in America," she said.


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