Black preacher: Why I forgave George Wallace
Gov. George Wallace refused to let black students enter the University of Alabama in 1963 despite a federal mandate.
May 11th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Black preacher: Why I forgave George Wallace

By Wayne Drash, CNN

Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN) - I had always heard the stories of Alabama Gov. George Wallace asking for forgiveness from the African-American community for his racist ways.

Yet I had never quite believed it, even if I had read accounts about it. The images of him standing at the door at the University of Alabama to prevent two black students from entering had been seared into my mind.

And so it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon the Rev. Kelvin Croom amid the destruction left by Tuscaloosa’s recent tornado. The Croom family has been a pillar of the African-American community here for the last five decades.

Croom's father, the late Rev. Sylvester Croom Sr., founded College Hill Baptist Church and served as chaplain for the University of Alabama’s football teams under the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant and two other coaches. The elder Croom has been recognized as one of the state's 40 pioneers of civil rights.

In the heart of tornado-ravaged Bama Nation, a new battle cry: ‘Let go! Let God!’

College Hill Baptist, where the younger Croom now preaches, sustained heavy damage. While volunteers rummaged through the debris, he talked to me and my CNN colleague Sarah Hoye outside his church. He told us this story:

The year was 1978. He was a senior at the University of Alabama. His father approached him and said Wallace, then in his third term as governor, wanted to meet with them and other black leaders at the Stafford Hotel.

The Rev. Kelvin Croom was with his father when Wallace asked for forgiveness.

The young Croom paused. "It caused me to really think." He thought about the hate he'd seen on TV spewing from the governor's mouth. "I say segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," the governor notoriously said as he was sworn into office in 1963.

Kelvin Croom decided to go with his father. "And I'm glad I did," he said. The rumors in the black community, Croom says, had been that Wallace was on a forgiveness tour to get the black vote.

But Croom says he saw it differently in person.

"He said he was wrong," Croom says. "He asked for forgiveness. It was up to us to do that once he asked. It's just so amazing. He played the great politics of the day - and by using hate and racial divide he won."

Yet when they met privately that day at the hotel, Croom says, "This man was really concerned for his soul and his relationship with Jesus Christ."

Croom says the biblical story of Saul the persecutor becoming Paul the Apostle flashed through his mind.

"I remember a man called Saul whose name was turned to Paul," Croom says. "The story of Saul is amazing. And I saw it with my own eyes in George Wallace. So I had to forgive Gov. Wallace as well as so many of the things he stood for."

He says he keeps a photograph in his office of Wallace in the governor's mansion; Croom's mother stands on one side, his father on the other.

"It just reminds me of where we come from," he says.

Is there any message from that story that can be applied to those affected by the tornado destruction?

"Even in the days we were living with segregation, we all had a hope for a better day," Croom says. "And right now, that's what we're doing in Tuscaloosa: We're hoping for a better day, hoping we come from the ashes of destruction and into a beautiful, more livable American city."

He adds, "If a lot of us would forgive people, we could find healing. We could find peace."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Alabama • Baptist • Belief • History • Leaders • Pastors • Politics • Race

soundoff (385 Responses)
  1. GonzoG

    When someone SO WRONG comes to understand the error of their ways and humbles themselves to ask for your forgiveness....forgiveness should seldom be denied.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  2. noel

    for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of GOD!!!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  3. TLC

    DEMOCRAT George Wallace forgiven no matter how Racist he was. No story here.
    The Republican party was formed for the sole purpose or repealing Democrat Legislation that allowed slavery to expand into the West. The First Republican President Freed the Slaves. Republican's broke the Democrat Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act. Republicans work to get Black America off the public dole and into the middle class – CNN uses it's headlines to keep spin going because Democrats own the Rhetoric on this one... Republicans own the history.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  4. yanni

    Wow! I learned something from this article. I'd like to get to meet this man someday.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  5. Sherry

    I grew up in the projects in the early 60's in Kentucky when Blacks lived on one side and whites on the other. There were no black children in my kindergarten or in my elementary classes until I reached 6th grade. The church I went to was all white. But there was one playground in that project and when we were all on it, we were all the same color. So, when I grew old enough for my father to explain that the races were not supposed to mix, I had a very adult opinion about that for an 8 year old; I knew he was wrong. I love my father but some things he told me I didn't listen to; I am so glad I didn't.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • D-Nice

      Kudos to you for not siding with your parents on that issue... As a 1st generation Hispanic-American, I can say that i am lucky i did not have to go through that kind of discrimination as a child, but i am intelligent enough to know that it still exsists. Kudos to the author on this piece, as well... Goes to show that the power of forgiveness is not completely lost on our people...

      May 11, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  6. Paul

    One day, the politicians who are so anti-Gay, will also be looked upon like the George Wallaces of the 60s. They will not be seen as heroes of history, but bigots and villians of history.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Paul, please don't drag the race issue to the level of ho-mo-se-x-uality! Race is human right issue. H-lity issue, the kind is being pushed today, is and issue of totally different level . No way to compare!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Ya Think

      "Paul, please don't drag the race issue to the level of ho-mo-se-x-uality! "

      DUH! It's about civil rights!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Nonimus

      Is the choice to love whoever you want, not a human right?
      The government has no business in our (figurative) bedrooms.
      The church/religion has no business in our government.
      The church/religion is twice removed from this question.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  7. Terri

    Forgive him for what? Some people like you, some dont. Who cares? Oh yeah, the racist black folks thats who!!!!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  8. andrew

    I really liked this article about forgiveness. I like that a person had realized his views were completely wrong and he decided to go to the community he wronged and ask for forgiveness. I like that a person had the strength of character to forgive him. As predicted, the comments section goes back to people hating Christians, people hating President Obama, et cetera. Crazy folks.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  9. Rev. Joseph M. Bianchi

    AMEN! A wonderful story of the power of Christ who has made all men of "one blood."!!!!!!! Wallace was wrong in his early years as Governor; he was blatantly racist...but that was, unfortunately, the culture of the time. Racism is a SPIRITUAL problem...not a social one. Thus, only the blood of Christ can truly unite men and women of all races...simple legislation will never do.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Rev. Joseph M. Bianchi,
      "Racism is a SPIRITUAL problem...not a social one. "
      Just curious, what do mean by this?

      May 11, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Brother Joseph, you are right when you say
      "Racism is a SPIRITUAL problem...not a social one. Thus, only the blood of Christ can truly unite men and women of all races...simple legislation will never do".But It is impossible for those who don't know Jesus Christ to comprehend that they have no righteousness of their own!

      God bless you, dear brother!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Ya Think

      "But It is impossible for those who don't know Jesus Christ to comprehend that they have no righteousness of their own!"

      This statement is false and shows your personal prejudice of those that don't think like you. I would qualify Gandhi and the Dalai Lama as great example of righteousness without Christ in their hearts.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  10. RalphS

    I think one must understand just how rampant racism was in those days, and how far we have come. Even whites living in the south that did not share Wallaces views were "racist", at least in public. Otherwise, they too were on the receiving end in one form or another. Imagine seeing all that hatred against your race, and still having the human kindness to forgive. Absolutely amazing in my mind.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • CW

      @ Ralph,

      Its not amazing....if you have God in your heart....he will give you the grace and mercy and wisdom to forgive anyone for anything. This is just another example of what all of us should strive to do in our lives.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  11. PRISM 1234

    What a beautiful, touching and inspiring story.

    Only Christ Jesus can transform human lives this way – of the offender, and the one who was offended.....

    "If the Son shall set you free , you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36)

    May 11, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      PRISM 1234 wrote: "Only Christ Jesus can transform human lives this way..."

      What an arrogant, egotistic and ignorant statement...

      May 11, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      ptl, you are wretched, blind, poor, and miserable soul ! Your words are as amiss as your futile life! You reject that what you need most in your life, therefore your wretchedness and blindness remain....

      You need healing from your own leprosy!

      God's people will pray for you!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Bill

      Het Prism, its really fabulous that a follower of Jesus would call somebody wretched, blind, poor, and miserable. You are a poster child for everything that is wrong w religion. Could you be just a little more arrogant and smug?

      May 11, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Ya Think

      "ptl, you are wretched, blind, poor, and miserable soul ! Your words are as amiss as your futile life! You reject that what you need most in your life, therefore your wretchedness and blindness remain...."

      Comments like this from a supposedly religious person shows exactly what is wrong with Christianity, they can't even follow their own guidelines. Wow, what a horrific thing to say to someone and cowardly because in real life you wouldn't have the guts to say that to someone personally.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      I suppose, when the doctor TELLS YOU that you have disease, you throw mud at him and curse him!

      And you call me arrogant and smug? LOL!

      Oh, the wretched, perverse an SELF- absorbed generation!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      PRISM 1234 wrote: " when the doctor TELLS YOU that you have disease, you throw mud at him and curse him! "

      If he's a quack, you should...

      May 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)


      Het Prism, its really fabulous that a follower of Jesus would call somebody wretched, blind, poor, and miserable. You are a poster child for everything that is wrong w religion. Could you be just a little more arrogant and smug?
      I guess you don't realize but Prism is re-stating what is in the Bible. Nothing arrogant or smug about it. Funny, I have never seen you correct the name callers on the atheist side. Why is that?

      May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  12. gdouglaso

    How wonderful to see a story like this. It is truly horrible to think about how people were treated based on skin color - I would like to think we have risen above this today, and no doubt we have made progress, but we still have some distance to go. Let us stand united.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • demo joseph

      How people WERE treated? what planet is this yo yo on?

      May 11, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  13. CINDY


    May 11, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Ya Think

      Writing in all caps is considered screaming. Chill!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  14. Nem

    I don't agree with anything president Obama is doing domestically. I am Black. What does that make me?

    May 11, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • f

      ...smarter than the aveage bear, Boo Boo....

      May 11, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Don

      Black Sarah Palin?

      May 11, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • d

      an uncle tom. i bet you agreed with everything that GW did though didn't you?

      May 11, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • moto

      Dumb and ignorant as HELL!!!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • EJ in Metro Houston

      makes you Mike Steele, Herman Cain, Alan West, in other words to disagree with the POTUS should not be about his race, it should be about what he is doing or not doing for the country. I am certain there are many white Americans that didn't like President Bush, or Clinton, or Carter, or even LINCOLN so what does that make them??

      May 11, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Cranky

      RACIST!!! YOU'RE RACIIIIIIST!!!! *slobber slobber drool*

      May 11, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • BethCooper

      Then you must be very small-minded and unable to use your common sense. Its pathetic

      May 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Freakon

      It makes you someone who cannot express himself clearly. Why not explain why you disagree and your reasons behind your disagreement instead of just saying "I disagree"?
      Maybe you're an Uncle Tom, or maybe you just have different ideas on how to fix our domestic problems.
      You don't really give enough info for me to make a decision, therefore your question is sorely lacking in intelligence.

      May 11, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Phil McSorley

      That makes you a free thinker unlike what Jessee Jackson, Barack Obama and Al Sharpton thinks of you. I cannot believe that Obama gets over 95% of the African American vote. I sure hope that African Americans will begin to see the Democratic Party for what it really does....keeps African Americans enslaved in the jail of low expectations.

      May 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  15. Don

    Nice to read good and inspiring stories like this one. I also was surprised by this story as we were all told that Wallace was the face of evil, the face of racism.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • JohnR

      This basic story was in the news back when it was happening. I remember reading about it in some news magazine. It takes courage to admit you were wrong and in some ways even more to forgive when the wrong was so huge, but where there's forgiveness, there's room for real growth that would otherwise be stunted.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  16. Kevin

    Very Little has changed...Those men standing behind them, their sons, and "grandsons" are giving PRESIDENT OBAMA HELL right now because he is the product of what they "STOOD" against....A BLACK MAN GETTING ENOUGH EDUCATION TO ONE DAY BECOME PRESIDENT OF THESE UNITED STATES....
    and they cannot STAND IT.....Pity..
    I wonder how THEY might feel if their sons or daughters were discriminated against to get into a school??? But WE are supposed to "GET OVER IT"..as they say...Hmmmmmm.......?

    May 11, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Jose

      The question might be.. do you blame the sons and grandsons of these men for the actions of their fathers?

      No one said get over it, but forgiveness, when someone is truely repentant , is good for the soul.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • ILoveJesus

      Kevin, I am black but my Lord and Saviour, Jesus, has commanded me to forgive him. And so, I must forgive him. Our life here on the earth is short enough. Please don't live the rest of your life with this inside of you.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • f

      Yes Obama got a good education. Yes, he is smart. No, he is still unqualified to be president. He had no experience whatsoever, necessary to achieve the presidency. Almost three years later, he still shows no knowledge of what is going on. The federal government is the biggest business in America. The president is the CEO, President and Chairman of the Board. Seeing how Obama never owned, managed, ran or even worked for a corporation, he still has no idea how to run the government. This is why most presidents or presidential hopefuls have many years of business and/or government experience BEFORE they run. PROTUS is not an on-the-job training program.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • tim Ricard

      kevin you are closed minded, be open to the possiblity not everything has to do with race. Some TPers are racist, others are not. Some Democrats are racist, others are not. We ought not care that Obama is black, it ought not make a difference.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Nonimus

      Not that there isn't racism still today, but I think a lot has changed. Imagine what would happen if a Governor made the same speech today, I'm guessing he might get impeached/recalled.

      Good words: "And right now, that's what we're doing in Tuscaloosa: We're hoping for a better day, hoping we come from the ashes of destruction and into a beautiful, more livable American city."

      May 11, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • wjs

      F, there is a significant difference between a government and a business. I suggest you take a course in Political Science 101 before you embarrass yourself again.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • NickA

      @ F. Look it up. Abraham Lincoln had very little more experience and most consider him one of the best presidents.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Kellee

      A lot has changed since those days! We have a voice, if we are willing to use it. We have a chance at education, if we choose to study. We have a chance to be accepted by many people and long as if we don't carry around the hate. There are millions of avenues open for Black People that were not avail. 30-40+ years ago. At some point we need to stop complaining about what THEY won't let us do and work on what we can do and work to change peoples views. The Black Commuinty of today is not as strong or brave as the ones during Wallace's Days in office. We have lost something and based on your mind set and the minds of many African Americans we will never get it back.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • jrcomo35713

      This one goes to "f". Yes, this is in fact your opinion. You sit in your high chair and take shots at the President like you have all the experience in the world. Where does it state that a person has to be experienced like a CEO in order to run for president. Just because this president was not a CEO does not make him ineligible to be able to run this country. Have you been keeping up with some of these so called CEO's that are over-compensated and don't have a clue... Yes mistakes are made, this comes with the territory of the job, every other President made mistakes they weren't perfect. Instead of criticizing every move this President makes, what you ought to be doing is encouraging him to do better, we all shoud because this is "our" President. You stick out like a sore thumb with your way of thinking, you stand out looking un-American. An American will stand by their President in support, whomever it is until his term is complete. If he is out of line in scandals, thats one thing but with him just being President and fulfilling his role, you should just shut up and move on and when the next election comes like any other President, just cast your vote. If you win, I wont be mad, I will accept and move on and acknowlege hime even if he is The Donald, Palin, Newt or worst. If Obama wins, you should just do the same. I may not have like the former President Bush, but I didn't go around talking in hate and disgust, I respected the fact he was our Peresident whether he knew what he was doing or not, so just shut up and be an American. You sound extreme. Whenever you get old and all your funds are depleted and you are in a floodzone and have no means of transportation and your health is failing and medi-care is about to be cut along with your social security that you worked so hard for all of your life, you my friend will be calling on your buddy the President, President Obama, the one you hated so much for whatever reason, I just can't put my fingers on, hum, I won't go there... to come to your aid. You got caught up in the mainstream press coverage of pundits who think they know everything but guesstimate their jobs giving you bad political advice and jumping off the cliff with them because they hate this president, but your time is up, now what happened to all this thinking. Reality sets in. Now its irrelevant as to who the President is, all you know now is you live in the USA and nothing matters and he happend to be born in the United States and the country moves on, but you don't. Get a life.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • S

      F..is it stands for Falin?

      You prefer a profit-motivated President, aren't you?

      May 12, 2011 at 5:47 am |
    • Phil McSorley

      Discrimination is alive and well today in colleges and universities. But it is by keeping qualified students out of the school based solely on the skin pigmentation of the student. I am sure you think this is somehow "fair" because of past discrimination. You are just like George Wallace and the rest of the Democratic Party that blocked that door for African American Students. You are doing the same thing to children based solely on "skin color" to somehow try and right a wrong.

      May 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  17. CareJack

    Through this article CNN is trying to make white christian terrorists like George Wallace a good person.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • JohnR

      That's a pathetic view.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • ILoveJesus

      Jack, please don't associate Christ with terrorism. If Mr. Wallace repented, God commands us all to forgive him. The Lord said in his Word that if we don't forgive him, he won't forgive us. Thank God for his love and mercy for all of us.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Jose

      read the article again. The person interviewed is an african american preacher.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      CareJack, you must not know the Lord Jesus Christ, and what His transforming power of His grace can do in one's life!
      This thread is not for atheists... They will find themselves dumbfounded!

      May 11, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Ya Think

      "This thread is not for atheists... They will find themselves dumbfounded!"

      Yeah, with comments like we are not going to heal this country. You need to take a good hard look at yourself and realize YOU are part of the problem.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Jesus

      People forget that white southern Senators quoted from Exodus 21 & 22 in saying that slavery is sanctioned by the Bible – TRUE! So the very book that the Pastor uses to draw his salary is also the same book that gave credence to Wallace's and other bigot's desire to enslave! Ironic isn't it!

      May 11, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Phil McSorley

      Of course CNN is trying to do that. The truth is that George Wallace (D) and the Democratic Party are the ones that blocked African Americans from the school house doors. CNN is trying to change the perception that somehow republicans are to blame. I also notice that CNN never tells you that George Wallace was a Democrat in the article. African Americans need to take another look at conservatives and come on back to the common sense side. The Democatic Party is keeping minorities enslaved in the mediocrity of low expectations that they have for you. Take a look at any inner city. Here in Washington DC the Mayor was even arrested (on purpose) because conservatives want to give black students a choice in their schools! HOLY COW!!! REALLY!! THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY wants to keep BLACK CHILDREN ENSLAVED in LOW EXPECTATIONS that is the DC PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  18. CW

    Good Godly Man.....Thank You Rev. Croom.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  19. Jeff Wilfahrt

    Nice piece Mr. Drash. Rev. Croom shows us the nobler path.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  20. myklds

    "To err is to human, to forgive is devinine"

    May 11, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • demo joseph

      Bull S.... look at the people who are doing the same thing today.... don't you watch FOX... the president won and all these people came out again. Wallace is just like all sinners "it's all about them" being forgiven before they die. "Because they do not known what will happen to them after that" That's the only hold we have on people like that. But I truly do not believe someone could do what Wallace did and feel any thing about who he hurt.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • demo joseph

      Forgiving is a personal choice. To forget it a personal choice. Hate will not help anyone, but you must understand when a people is treated in a way it will take years of personal work on self to get better. This is why so many say "it was my father's sin" But you benefited from your father sin and still are. People need to learn to read between the lines, understand motives, etc. It will change when we all change. I could never hate a race for something one person did. Just look at what all the Senators, and elected officials sat on their hands and let the Congress woman from California do with the picture and did nothing to stop or put her out. To me that was worse then what Wallace did. "yet she found the Lord" and what we forgive her? Bull S..... You can't fool all the people.....

      May 11, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • demo joseph

      The problem is not the Atheists.... it's the so call Christains. If you are a Christains – you don't have to say it. It will show in your action and deeds.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Cyrus

      What the hell is "devinine"?

      May 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • myklds

      @josef...What's all the hate for? Where they came from?

      Forgiving is not an easy thing to do for us humans, that's the reason why it had been said as an act of divinity.

      @Cyrus...Go and ask your mother about the word typo, or, grow-up and unearth it yourself.

      May 12, 2011 at 5:40 am |
    • JanN

      demo joseph...one of the critical themes in this story is change of heart, mind and soul. Pull out the Bible and spend the day reading Acts like I did on Easter. Be a cynic if you want...people can change! God save your soul!

      May 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.