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Thirty years after shooting of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the questions swirl

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    Thirty years after shooting of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the questions swirl

    Thirty years after shooting of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the questions swirl
    Wed May 15, 1:35 AM ET
    By BOB JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer

    MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Thirty years ago, gunshots fired in Maryland left Alabama Gov. George Wallace in agony, sprawled on the pavement of a shopping center parking lot.

    The anniversary of the assassination attempt has raised tantalizing questions about the feisty, fist-shaking segregationist of the 1960s who would later preach racial cooperation.

    Did the bullets stop Wallace from becoming a U.S. senator or even president? How much did they alter his political legacy? Would he be still alive today if they had never been fired?

    Wallace, who drew nearly 10 million votes as a third-party candidate for president in 1968, was seeking the Democratic nomination when he walked into a crowd to shake hands in Laurel, Md., on the afternoon of May 15, 1972.

    Upbeat after finishing first in the Florida primary, Wallace was reaching out to supporters after a speech when he was shot five times by a 21-year-old loner named Arthur Bremer.

    The shots left Wallace in almost constant pain and forced him to get around in a wheelchair, but he won two more terms as governor and lived 26 more years before dying in 1998 at age 79 of a blood infection.

    Bremer, sentenced to 53 years for the shooting, remains in prison in Maryland. Wallace said many times he had forgiven him.

    Wallace became known in the 1960s as a segregationist governor who "stood in the schoolhouse door" at the University of Alabama in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent two blacks from enrolling. In 1972, he was making his third run for president with a message of state's rights and no tax increases.

    When Wallace was shot, he led a crowded Democratic field in popular votes and delegates, but his campaign ceased while he recovered in a hospital. George McGovern eventually won the Democratic Party nomination but lost to President Nixon in a landslide.

    Wallace's son is convinced his father might have been a senator or even made it to the White House if it hadn't been for those five bullets.

    "If he hadn't been shot, I don't know how the Democrats would have kept him off the ticket," said George Wallace Jr., a Public Service Commission member. "Everywhere I go people say it emphatically, that he would have been president if he hadn't been shot."

    After the shooting, Wallace visibly modified his views and publicly apologized to blacks for his segregationist stands of the 1960s. William Stewart, political science professor emeritus at the University of Alabama, said that part of Wallace's legacy also might not have happened had it not been for the assassination attempt.

    "Obviously it softened him," Stewart said. "As tragic as it was, and it was awfully tragic, if any good came from it, it resulted in softening his image and made him appear to be more of a human being."

    Stewart said he doubts Wallace would have been elected president if he hadn't been shot and also doubts he would have had the heavy black support he got when he won his final race for governor in 1982.

    "Black people having known suffering collectively were more likely to sympathize with Wallace after he suffered life-threatening blows," Stewart said.

    George Wallace Jr. said he believes his father would have moderated and apologized for his segregationist views even if he hadn't been shot. But he said the assassination attempt caused the change to come sooner.

    "He was so mobile prior to the shooting. He had to transition to being immobile. It caused him to re-examine his life, have a deeper faith and more sympathy for the suffering of others," Wallace said.

    At the very least, Wallace's son is certain his father would still be alive today if it weren't for Bremer's bullets, one of which struck his spinal cord. Wallace was a boxer in his youth and vigorous as an adult, the younger Wallace said.

    "The doctors told us at the time that the longevity for that type of injury was eight years and he lived 26 years. That speaks to his strength and genetic makeup. There's no question he would still be with us today if he hadn't been shot," said George Wallace Jr.


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