Former Gov. George C. Wallace, who declared "segregation forever" and later was paralyzed by a would-be assassin's bullet as he campaigned for the presidency in 1972, died Sunday. He was 79.
Wallace, who recanted his segregationist stand later in his career and won his final term with the help of black votes, had battled Parkinson's disease as well as the lingering effects of his wounds. He had been hospitalized repeatedly.Wallace entered the hospital Thursday, suffering from breathing problems and septic shock caused by a severe bacterial infection. He also had been hospitalized this summer with similar problems.
The former governor died of respiratory and cardiac arrest, Jackson Hospital officials said. Wallace's son, George Wallace Jr., and one of his daughters, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, were at his side when he died.
"Gov. Wallace has shown tremendous courage for many years in living an active life despite his pain and injury," Gov. Fob James said. "This example is an inspiration to us all. Gov. Wallace now rests with God and with history."
Former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement praising Wallace for changing his long-held views on race and "his courage in the face of illness and physical handicap."
"With the death of George Wallace, Alabama and the American South have lost one of our favorites sons," Carter said. "His political career both helped to define and to reflect the political life of our region."
A lifelong Democrat, Wallace in recent years had supported Republicans and was viewed by biographers as instrumental in bring-ing about the modern conservative movement.
As a third-party candidate in 1968, Wallace received nearly 10 million votes and seemed poised to do as well four years later when he was shot.
He had gained national notoriety in the early 1960s when he vowed "segregation forever" and stood in an Alabama schoolhouse door to keep blacks from enrolling. But ultimately he won an unprecedented fourth term as governor with the help of black voters.
"We thought it was in the best interests of all concerned. We were mistaken," he told a black group during his last gubernatorial campaign in 1982. "The Old South is gone," but "the New South is still opposed to government regulation of our lives."
A political icon in a region long accustomed to fiery oratory, Wallace dominated the state for the better part of two decades before bowing out of politics with the April 1986 announcement that he would not seek a fifth term.
Urging voters to "send 'em a message," Wallace made four runs at the presidency, including the 1968 contest in which he won five Southern states and 46 electoral votes.
He married three times and put his first wife in the governor's chair when state law barred him from succeeding himself.
As the South reeled from civil rights clashes and the bombing of black churches during his early career, Wallace loomed as a symbol of racial oppression across the region.
But after being crippled by gunshots and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Wallace no longer was the jut-jawed, fist-shaking figure who threatened to "shake the eye teeth" of the establishment.
Late in life, the shrewd firebrand segregationist had mellowed into a populist who pledged to help poor people of all colors. His election to a fourth term in 1982 was built on a coalition including the black votes he once scorned, and he was courted by liberal members of his party.
Removed from the political spotlight, he worried that history would remember him only for his segregationist defiance.
Stephan Lesher, who wrote a 1994 biography of Wallace, "American Populist," said Wallace's legacy should stretch far beyond his views on race - but concedes that it's unlikely.
"It's like the blood stains on Lady Macbeth's hands," Lesher said. "He will never be able to wash out the stains of racism."