George Wallace

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George Wallace Former Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, who built his political career on segregation and spent a tormented retirement arguing that he was not a racist in his heart, died Sunday night at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery. He was 79 and lived in Montgomery, Ala. Wallace died of respiratory and cardiac arrest at 9:49 p.m., said Dana Beyerly, a spokeswoman for Jackson Hospital in Montgomery. Wallace had been in declining health since being shot in his 1972 presidential campaign by a 21-year-old drifter named Arthur Bremer. Wallace, a Democrat who was a longtime champion of states' rights, dominated his own state for almost a generation. But his wish was to be remembered as a man who might have been president and whose campaigns for that office in 1968, 1972 and 1976 established political trends that have dominated American politics for the last quarter of the 20th century. He believed that his underdog campaigns made it possible for two other Southerners, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, to be taken seriously as presidential candidates. He also argued ceaselessly that his theme of middle-class empowerment was borrowed by Richard Nixon in 1968 and then grabbed by another Californian, Ronald Reagan, as the spine of his triumphant populist conservatism. In interviews later in his life, Wallace was always less keen to talk about his other major role in Southern history. After being elected to his first term as governor in 1962, he became the foil for the huge protests that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to destroy segregation in public accommodations in 1963 and to secure voting rights for blacks in 1965. As a young man, Wallace came boiling out of the sun-stricken, Rebel-haunted reaches of southeast Alabama to win the governorship on his second try. He became the only Alabamian ever sworn in for four terms as governor, winning elections in 1962, 1970, 1974 and 1982. He retired at the end of his last term in January 1987. So great was his sway over Alabama that by the time he had been in office only two years, other candidates literally begged him for permission to put his slogan, "Stand Up for Alabama," on their billboards. Sens. John Sparkman and Lister Hill, New Deal veterans who were powers in Washington and the national Democratic Party, feared to contradict him in public when he vowed to plunge the state into unrelenting confrontation with the federal government over the integration of schools, buses, restrooms and public places in Alabama. It was a power built entirely on his promise to Alabama's white voting

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