In March, 1965, a violent confrontation between Alabama state troopers and peaceful civil rights marchers horrified the nation. The troops that beat and tear-gassed the demonstrators were under orders from Governor George Wallace to halt the march.
Thirty years later, George Wallace would sit next to the podium at a ceremony commemorating the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march, holding the hand of the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Wallace's journey from fierce segregationist to civil-rights supporter began in Barbour County, Alabama. The county prided itself on being the birthplace of five Alabama governors. At the age of fourteen, while serving as a congressional page in Montgomery, Wallace made a promise to himself that he would one day return to the capital -- as governor.
Wallace was born in 1919 to a farming family in the town of Clio. He graduated from high school in 1937, the same year his father died, and immediately enrolled in the law program at the University of Alabama, from which he was graduated in 1942.
He paid his tuition by waiting on tables and accepting small pay-offs for participating in boxing matches in smoke-filled private clubs in Tuscaloosa and the surrounding area.
In 1943 Wallace married Lurleen Burns. The couple had their first child the following year. They would later have three more children. Wallace served with the Army Air Corps in 1945, flying nighttime incendiary missions over Japan. After being sent back to the United States for additional training, Wallace refused to return to duty and eventually was granted a discharge due to "severe anxiety."
Back in Montgomery, Wallace obtained a job as assistant attorney general. Just three months later he launched his political career with a bid for a seat in the state legislature. He was elected in 1947 and earned a...