Assassination of George Wallace

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Although he did not expect to win when he ran for the presidency, Alabama Governor George Wallace ran in 1972 to ‘send a message’ to Washington. To everyone’s surprise, Wallace had strong showings in state primaries, which were surprising for a candidate who only a decade earlier had vowed “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!” (at his gubernatorial inauguration, no less).

George Wallace had since renounced those views, but he was paranoid that he will be assassinated. He told the Detroit News. “Somebody’s going to get me one of these days,” he told “I can just see a little guy out there that nobody’s paying any attention to. He reaches into his pocket and out comes the little gun, like that Sirhan guy that got Kennedy.” Wallace stood behind an 800-pound bulletproof podium each time he delivered his stump ‘law and order’ speech.

On May 15, 1972, Wallace stood out from his podium, took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves to shake hands with people at a shopping center in Laurel, Maryland. He usually wore a bulletproof vest but that day was too hot for Wallace to wear it. Arthur Bremer, stepped out from the crowd, and fired five times. All bullets hit Wallace. Bremer was immediately arrested. Wallace’s reputation meant than many people would have expected his shooter to be black, but Bremer was a blonde 21-year old Caucasian. Bremer, according to his infamously demented diary, wanted to kill either Nixon or Wallace, not for political purposes, but to assert his virility.

Wallace survived the assassination attempt but would be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life, his presidential ambitions forever eclipsed by a hostile press that preyed on his crippled ‘haplessness’. Bremer was sentenced to 53 years in prison. His diary would go on to inspire the 1976 movie Taxi Driver which in turn inspired the assassination attempt on Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr.

George Wallace at the DNC

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(Governor George Wallace assisted by aides into wheelchair during the Democratic National Convention by Bill Eppridge.)

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In the 1930s and 1940s, Americans knew Franklin Roosevelt from his warm and reassuring radio voice, and not his crippled status. A cooperative press and vigilant secret service made sure there were few pictures and almost no film of FDR in a wheelchair.

Less fortunate was former Alabama Governor, George Wallace, whose name has become almost synonymous with segregation. Wallace, who had long apologized for his racist views, was the frontrunner for the democratic presidential nomination in 1972 when an assassin’s bullet crippled him. One bullet lodged in his spinal column, paralyzing him from the waist down. (Trivia: Wallace’s assassin’s diary inspired the 1976 movie Taxi Driver which in turn inspired the assassination attempt on Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr.).

As he was wheeled into the Democratic National Convention in Miami, Wallace received a standing ovation. However, he lost the nomination to George McGovern. His run for the party nomination in ’76 was less successful–the media predominantly depicted Wallace on his wheelchair and this ‘helplessness’ came to define his campaign. He lost to another Southern democrat Jimmy Carter, who went on to win the presidency.