Mary Palmer has peered into the closet of George Corley Wallace and masterfully portrayed the man who might have been president of the United States, the little fighting judge, and the legendary governor of Alabama. In a preface to her book “George Wallace: An Enigma,” publsiher John O’Melveny Woods asks: “Should I publish this book or not?”
Thankfully, the answer was “yes,” because the public needs to know the real Wallace who was more, much more, than the icon known for his adamant stand in the schoolhouse door proclaiming “segregation forever.”
Palmer’s book bears an important forward from George Wallace himself, so this account carries the governor’s endorsement. According to Palmer, before his death in 1998, Wallace told her, “I feel that this biography, by Mary S. Palmer, probably is the most unbiased, objective presentation of my true life story. While it is critical of my deficiencies, it also acknowledges my objective as a person as well as a politician.”
Wallace notes that other biographies have made harsh judgments of him and portrayed him as a “bigoted racist with only his own interests at heart.” He hopes “that man is not me.”
“George Wallace: An Enigma” is a book of fairness and compassion. It is probable that Sigmund Freud himself — or the best psychoanalyst in America or abroad could have untangled the his complexities. Palmer, however, has shown that Edward Wallis Hoch (Mar 17, 1849 – June 1, 1925) was right when he said there was good in the worst of us and bad in the best of us — and a good biographer, like Palmer, acknowledges both as she gives a relevant historical perspective into the life and time of one of America’s most “complex, divisive and controversial governors.”
Mary Palmer’s book is a must read, not only because it is about a governor who could have been president, but because it shows us the human side of success and failure. In many ways, the book discloses the sad realities of fame — and here we think of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when he said:
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself …
George Wallace arranged for his wife, Lurleen, to run for governor when the law deemed he could not succeed himself more than once Palmer writes that “even the distressing news of Lurleen’s cancer did not impede Wallace’s political career. Perhaps it was ‘vaulting ambition’ that enabled the governor to set aside what might be called a premonition regarding his appearance at a presidential political rally in Laurel, Maryland on May 15, 1972. The night before the rally, he had said to Glen Curlee, an old college friend who was with him: ‘Curlee, do you think they’re gonna shoot me up there tomorrow?’”
In a chapter entitled “The Thrill Of The Chase,” before Gov. Wallace had announced his 1972 candidacy for president, then State Rep. Maurice “Casey” Downing commented on “the orphan boy who had to fight his way to the top.” He noted that “George stands for the basic freedom of all people.” He stood for “the freedom to work, to earn a living, to own land … [and to be granted] freedom from fear.”
George Wallace did a lot of good for the state of Alabama. One of the things that Palmer shows is how ambition and the pursuit of fame carries with it the precariousness of political life — that a politician can be killed when running for president of the United States.
“George Wallace: An Enigma”
By Mary S. Palmer
Intellect Publishing, LLC (April 20, 2016)
$9.95 ebook | $19.95 paperback
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