The University of Alabama at Birmingham has removed the name of former Gov. George Wallace from one of its campus buildings due to his support of segregation in his early political career.
The Associated Press reported that university trustees unanimously approved a resolution that called for his name to be removed because of his history of racial animosity, which was most prevalent when he said at his 1963 inauguration: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
Taking Wallace’s name from the structure, which will now simply be known as the Physical Education Building, is “the right thing to do,” said trustee John England Jr., in a statement. His name had been on the structure in 1975.
Probably one of the most unsettling, if not infamous, photographs from the civil rights years is Wallace standing in front of the doors to Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama (which is separate form UAB) to block two Black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from gaining admission to the school.
That prompted President John F. Kennedy to send the National Guard in to force Wallace to move, which he eventually did, allowing the two students to register for classes.
Wallace reversed his perspective the year after he took office, telling then-Washington Post writer Carl T. Rowan that he knew segregation couldn’t survive.
“I saw then that a house divided could not stand – that Black and white people had to live with each other,” he said.
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Wallace went on to unsuccessfully challenge President Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 Democratic presidential primaries, and tried to wrest electoral college votes in Congress in 1968 with a third-party presidential run. He won another term as Alabama governor in 1970 and attempted another pro-segregation presidential run in 1972, but he ended it when he was shot and paralyzed in an assassination attempt.
He retained the governor’s office in the 1974 election and tried and failed another attempt at the presidency in 1976. He left office after 1978 but won a fourth and final gubernatorial term in 1982.
Wallace claimed to have renounced his racist views in his later years, and the late Rep. John Lewis, the recipient of racist abuse by Wallace’s administration, wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he said he forgave him. Still, his legacy as a segregationist has lasted into the present day. Wallace died in 1998 in Montgomery, Ala.
“The UA System, the Board of Trustees, our working group and our campuses recognize Governor Wallace’s complex legacy, including the well-known acceptance of his apology by civil rights icon John Lewis,” wrote England. “That said, his stated regret late in life did not erase the effects of the divisiveness that continue to haunt the conscience and reputation of our state.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Wallace’s name was being removed from a building at the University of Alabama, not the University of Alabama at Birmingham.