Wanting to Have His Say

Segregationist sought influence amid upheaval.

A George Wallace presidential campaign placard.
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In 1963, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, a Democrat, promised his state "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" as he railed against a federal court order for integration.

Less than five years later, in the spring of 1968, Wallace converted that message into a campaign for the presidency. He nearly derailed the civil rights movement in the process.

As the American Independent Party's candidate, Wallace admitted later he had no real hope of capturing the presidency. Instead, his goal was to win enough votes in the Deep South to prevent his opponents—Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon—from winning an electoral majority. Had that happened, the outcome of the election would have been thrown to the House of Representatives, where Wallace surmised he could influence the policy of the eventual winner.

Legacy. The plan failed, but not by much. Wallace won five states and 46 electoral votes; Humphrey, 191; Nixon, 301. A more enduring legacy was the South's defection from the Democratic Party: first to Wallace and then to the GOP.

In 1972, Wallace launched another presidential bid, this time as a Democrat with bright national prospects. But at a campaign stop in Laurel, Md., on the afternoon of May 15, a 21-year-old gunman named Arthur Bremer fired several shots into Wallace's gut. (Bremer was released on parole from a Maryland prison in November.) One bullet lodged near Wallace's spinal cord, paralyzing him and effectively taking him out of the presidential race.