I was invited to offer the invocation on the beginning day of the Alabama legislative session in March thanks to a young lady from our church who works for Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon. It was my first time in the chamber, and it was a great experience. Before returning home, I stopped to say hello to political consultant David Azbell whom I met years ago in a political items collectors group. David’s office is an impressive museum and he has some interesting stories to tell!
I saw a picture on his wall and asked him to tell me more about it.
Vivian Malone was one of two African American students who wished to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963. Gov. George C. Wallace fulfilled his campaign promise to “stand in the schoolhouse door” if necessary to prevent this. The governor, along with the majority of Alabamians in the day, supported segregation. The president federalized the Alabama National Guard who asked Wallace to step aside. Both students enrolled later in the day. Malone transferred as a junior and became the first student of color to graduate from UA in 1965.
Fast forward to 1996. Former Gov. Wallace invited Malone to Montgomery to receive the Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage as “a woman who, through her actions, changed Alabama for the better.” David said the two were prevented by court order from conversing in 1963, so this was the first time they’d met. It was a cordial meeting. The governor apologized for the events of 1963. Malone said his earlier public apologies sufficed. She returned two years later to attend Wallace’s state funeral.
At the time David served as Wallace’s personal assistant, so he was eyewitness to the conclusion of a lingering chapter in Alabama civil rights history.
David also shared another interesting story.
While cataloguing the governor’s papers, he found a letter Wallace had written to his would-be assassin Arthur Bremer. Bremer had designs to kill a politician and first fixated on Richard Nixon. Somehow, he decided to target Wallace. Bremer shot four people, all of whom survived, though Wallace was paralyzed.
David said he immediately drove to Wallace’s home to ask about the letter. The governor said it was a private letter and he never made it public. In it, Wallace assured Bremer of his forgiveness and prayers for redemption in Christ.
Perhaps Wallace knew his life was nearly done and wanted to make amends. In this regard he remains a good example. We’re all transients on earth, and as Emerson said, we need to “keep our friendships in repair.”
And it’s a mark of God’s grace to reach out to former foes as well.