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Monday, September 14, 1998 Published at 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK

World: Americas

Governor Wallace dies at 79

Refusing education to blacks, 1963

The BBC's correspondent, Rageh Omaar, reports from Washington
The former governor of Alabama, George Wallace, who once made national headlines with his uncompromising tirades against "race-mixing", has died of a heart attack, aged 79.

For many Americans, George Wallace was the personification of southern bigotry until, 30 years into his career, he underwent a complete political transformation, and enjoyed overwhelming support from Alabama's black population.

He has even been mourned in death by the black civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson, who claimed him as a respected friend.

[ image: The governor had ambitions to be president]
The governor had ambitions to be president
But the die-hard Democrat never lived down the vow he made in 1963 in his acceptance speech after winning his first term as governor.

Dumeetha Luthra: "For many he represented a leading voice of racism"
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," he declared, later blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama to keep blacks from enrolling.

After winning his third term as governor, Wallace made a number of serious bids for the White House.

But in 1972, on the campaign trail in Maryland, he was crippled by gunshot wounds in an assassination attempt, and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

[ image: Meeting James Hood, one of the black students Wallace denied school access]
Meeting James Hood, one of the black students Wallace denied school access
Wallace went on to fail in many attempts to run for political office, until, after a long period of seclusion, he apologised for his early racist actions.

"We thought it was in the best interests of all concerned. We were mistaken," he told a mainly black audience during his last gubernatorial campaign, in 1982.

Running on a new platform - advocating racial and religious tolerance - he won an unprecedented fourth term as governor.

The former President, Jimmy Carter, has issued a statement praising Wallace for changing his long-held views on race.

"His political career both helped to define and to reflect the political life of our region," Mr Carter said.

Over the last few years, George Wallace fought against the effects of Parkinson's disease as well as the lingering effects of his wounds. He had been in and out of hospital for many years.

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