The name of four-term governor and presidential nominee George C Wallace has been suspended from a campus building by the University of Alabama at Birmingham for his promotion of racial segregation.
Wallace came to prominence by defending ethnic separation and stoking racial hatred, a resolution overwhelmingly accepted by trustees on Friday said. The resolution claimed that his name remained a sign of racial discrimination for many, while acknowledging that Wallace ultimately renounced racist policies.
A UAB building named after Wallace in 1975 will now simply be renamed the Building of Physical Education. In a speech, trustee John England Jr said that withdrawing Wallace’s name “is simply the right thing to do.”
Wallace, who reportedly vowed “Segregation today!” at his 1963 inauguration! Tomorrow Apartheid! Segregation Forever Segregation! , was injured in an attempted assassination while campaigning for president in 1972. He was in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
In 1979, one Sunday, Wallace went to Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, once home to Martin Luther King Jr., to pray for forgiveness.
“I learned what it means to suffer,” he said. I guess I can understand more about the suffering that black people have come to feel, in a way that seemed unlikely. I know that I have contributed to that suffering, and I can only ask for your pardon.
In 1982, with the help of black voters, Wallace was elected to a fourth term as governor. In 1998, he died. Many buildings bear his name throughout the state.
England said Wallace has a “complex legacy” that includes an apology to John Lewis, a late Congressman who was battered in Selma in 1965 by Alabama state troopers while attempting to march for voting rights.
“That said, [Wallace’s] reported regret late in life did not erase the consequences of divisiveness that continue to haunt our state’s conscience and reputation,” England said.
An online petition asked Auburn University, as demonstrations over police shootings and social inequality swept the US, to rename a building honoring Wallace last year. There was no measure taken. George Wallace Jr., Wallace’s son, wrote an open letter against such a move, which he claimed did not understand the transition of his father late in life.
Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, voiced support for reform on the Birmingham campus in a statement issued by UAB.
“For the betterment of students, faculty and the community, it is important for the university to always seek positive and significant change,” she said.