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The story of George C. Wallace sounds like something from Paul Harvey’s "The Rest of the Story." It comes in two parts: the sad, earlier life and the hard but hopeful latter life.

A dramatic and tragic event in the middle brought life-changing consequences for the man from Alabama. In 1962, Wallace ran for governor on a platform that was blatantly racist. He promised to fight integration to the point of defying federal orders and personally blockading schoolhouse doors. He ended his inaugural address with the infamous statement, "I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." That summer, he refused to allow black students to register at the University of Alabama until forced to do so by the threat of military intervention.

Through his tenure as governor and a run for the presidency in 1968, Wallace spouted racial hatred while blacks were beaten and jailed, black churches were burned, and black children were murdered.

Elected governor a second time in 1970, Wallace began to signal a shift in his racial stance. Perhaps he had grown weary of building his political aspirations on other people’s fears and prejudices. Or perhaps (as a good politician) he was merely sensing change in the cultural wind. But by 1972, his message had become more populist and less bigoted. Then came May 15, 1972 -- and the rest of the story. While campaigning in Laurel, Maryland, Wallace was shot five times, leaving him paralyzed and in constant pain. Two years later -- confined to a wheel chair, divorced from his second wife, without the use of his legs, and lacking control of bodily functions -- Wallace was a broken, pathetic figure. He was a man who finally understood the meaning of suffering. He was a man who had come to realize what suffering he had caused others.

While being driven home one evening, he passed the open doors of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a black congregation where years earlier Martin Luther King, Jr. had stood in the pulpit and denounced Wallace for his treatment of African-Americans. Overcome with remorse, Wallace stopped the car, was helped into his wheelchair, and wheeled up the aisle to the stunned surprise of the assembly. There, Wallace tearfully confessed he had been wrong, apologized for the suffering he had caused, and asked the blacks of Alabama to forgive him. It was an expression of remorse he was to repeat on numerous occasions in the following years -- publicly, before black audiences on campuses and conventions, and privately, to black leaders like Coretta Scott King and Jesse Jackson. During two more terms as governor (1974 and 1982), he built bridges to the black community, developed relationships with prominent black leaders, and worked to undo some of the damage his own racist rhetoric had caused. Until the very end, while bedridden and deaf, he still received visits from friends, both black and white, and met with groups of both races for prayer.

Not all blacks forgave Wallace. The damage he did and the pain he caused was great. But the story of George Wallace is not about forgiveness but about repentance. Here is a man who was tragically flawed and terribly wrong. It took five bullets and horrific suffering to bring him to his knees. But once broken, he had the courage to face his hatred and prejudice, repent, confess, and then spend the remainder of his life attempting to atone and make restitution.

Sorrow and guilt have a positive place in our lives.

(SOURCE: Tim Woodroof, Walk This Way: An Interactive Guide to Following Jesus, [Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1999], 62-63. From a sermon by Leland Patrick, "Trading Sorrow for Singing" 7/14/08, SermonCentral.com)

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