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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. Donna

    What does this story have to do with the tornado destruction in Tuscaloosa? Nothing. We're never going to get rid of racism if we keep bringing it up for no apparent reason.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Frost

      Damn Donna, this isn't about the tornadoes. This is about racist George Wallace. Re-read the article, there is a reason.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  2. cyndi

    If one doesn't forgive, he will not be forgiven. Wallace is really no different than the likes of Limbaugh,Beck,Palin, etc., they for the most part spew out hatred and racism to gain political power by preying on the ignorant. I refuse to give any human the power over me by not forgiving because there is a higher being much much much powerful and significant than any man on this earth.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  3. BuB

    Ok, let me inform you folks how it is. I'm not going to check for replies due to all those here, obviously more enlightened and determined to rewrite history. George Wallace was not a racist. Talk to those still living in Clio Alabama that actually knew him. Black and white. He spouted anti-black rhetoric because it was to his advantage politically. He told Bull Connor and other LE officers specifically NOT to attack the marchers. When they did it anyway he exploded and there are recorded conversations to prove it. THEN, he asked for forgiveness. Why? To make headlines. Once again it was politics. JL Chestnut's mother told a shocked JL that she was voting for Wallace "because he got us paved roads, new textbooks, schools and buses". HE CARRIED THE BLACK VOTE IN EVERY ELECTION AFTER HIS "STAND" in Tuscaloosa. Find a real reporter. Get the real reporter to find several blacks that knew Wallace personally and report on that. Not what the national "media" reported. In short, the media was nothing more than puppets for Wallace – and almost got him elected President. There WERE and still ARE racists all over the South, black and white – just like everywhere. But Wallace was not one. So the joke's on you guys. Even in death he's still playing you like a cheap fiddle. Probably the best "politician" in the history of this country. LOL

    May 11, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Imsaying

      I disagree. Did he let those students into college? His actions hurt more than his words in this situation. Yes, there are racist of all nationalities but the blacks here in the US of A were hurt the worst. I wonder how the past, ie.. slavery, Jim Crows laws, lynchings etc..... affect the whites?

      May 11, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  4. SouthernLady

    I think there is a lack of understanding of the story of Saul in the New Testament. He was a tremendous persecutor of Christians, even to the point of seeing many of them killed because of his ideologies; he was one of the most feared men in his day. Jesus appeared to Saul on a road to Damascus and from that point his name was changed (to Paul) and he spent the rest of his life acting on the repentence that happened at that time and WROTE two-thirds of the New Testament calling for obedience to Christ and love for all mankind. THAT is what this man of God, Rev. Croom, is referring to! Real change can happen through the power of God.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  5. Julie Landes

    God bless that Wayne Drash met Kelvin Croom in the midst of all the destruction, that we can read this story and still have hope for a better day! (that's God at work)
    This story reminds us all of the good in us and the power of God.
    Peace to all.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  6. Frank

    The New Testament tells us that Jesus said that if we do not forgive others then God will not forgive us. You can only become a Christian by repentance (a change in your heart and mind). I urge all who harbor animosity towards George Wallace to let it go. If God can forgive him should not we also? For your own good you must do this. Unforgiveness is like a black spot on your soul. Yes George sinned but he repented. Unforgiveness is sin. Let go and let God.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  7. CD6910

    Please forgive me because I am dumbfounded at how a Christian doesn't realize they need to forgive from day one, let alone a pastor. Duh! Forgiveness is what every Christian must do in order to be forgiven by God for their own sins. It's what makes Christianity – the forgiveness of sin – as most amazingly carried out by Jesus on the cross.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  8. WIll III

    I don't know if we can but it is time to move pass racism and bigotry and judge off character. We for too long have held prejudices on bot sides of the coin for all races, that are based on rumor and conjecture. Forgive each other so that we will not proceed with this mentality. Also I don't see race playing as big a factor with the new generation coming up as it did in the past. They are way more accepting and willing to judge of character, not pre-concieved notions. We are all different people, not just based on superficial outward appearance.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  9. No One Inparticular

    People make mistakes. Some are small mistakes. Others are epic. But we've all made them.

    I recall the words of a Black woman whose son was dragged to death by two White men behind a pick-up truck. One faced her after he was sentenced and pleaded that she forgive him. She said, "I forgave you the moment it happened," and I thought, "My God, that woman expressed more strength and power in one moment than I'll demonstrate collectively over the course of my life."

    No doubt Mr. Wallace inflicted a tremendous amount of pain on a great many people during his tenure. I won't tell those people they SHOULD forgive him–that's their decision and their decision alone, individually. But I will say that I for one will respect each and every one of them tremendously if they can find the strength and power to do so. If the ability to forgive isn't a virtue, maybe it ought to be.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  10. John M

    And the number 1 reason is: He's dead and II'm not.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  11. anne

    People, forgiveness is NOT for the offender; it is for the one offended. Forgiveness releases any power, toxicity or otherwise negatives feelings that a person's adverse actions have over the offended, and allow them to live free and move forward in their life. You cannot keep someone in jail without being there yourself.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  12. Ajunggi

    Way up north, when segregation was alive, north of 60, eskimos, kayaks, eh, eh. Eskimos were afraid, i guess same thing happens to black americans, they were made to be afraid.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  13. Steve

    Thanks for sharing Pastor Groom, appreciate your encouraging words.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  14. Sam T. Princeton

    George Wallace was a Christian. The KKK was a Christian organization. The Southern Baptist Conference was created purely due to slavery – which it strongly supported.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      Sam,

      You can stand in the middle of your garage and call yourself a car – doesn't make you one. God tells us to judge men "by their fruits". Do this and you will see if they are truly Christian or not.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Sam T. Princeton

      I'm giggling over your response. So everything bad done in the name of religion is not the fault of religion? How convenient! Religion is never responsible for the failures of religion. Brilliant logic.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Ryan

      Sam, you are correct. There is no use trying to talk to some religious people logically. They will give you irrational answers from an anti-intellectual standpoint. You just gotta believe........and send in money

      May 11, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Nah

      sam: "George Wallace was a Christian. The KKK was a Christian organization. The Southern Baptist Conference was created purely due to slavery – which it strongly supported."

      Ah, yes. And bin Laden was a Muslim. And Al Qaeda is a Muslim organization. In fact, the Taliban was created purely due to war and for jihad, which it strongly supports.

      Are all Muslims therefore terrorists?

      You're trying to malign your opposition through nefarious association. It's fallacious and absurd to the nth degree.

      RYAN: "Sam, you are correct. There is no use trying to talk to some religious people logically. They will give you irrational answers from an anti-intellectual standpoint. You just gotta believe........and send in money"

      Lol. Logic. He comes up with a fallacy, you call it logical, give no substantive argument, and then take his position to be true.

      Evidently you aren't a deep thinker. Or any kind of thinker at all.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Sam T. Princeton

      That's a straw man argument, Nah. I guess fallacious argumentation is okay if you are the one doing it.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Nah

      sam: "That's a straw man argument, Nah. I guess fallacious argumentation is okay if you are the one doing it."

      You're right. And it was a reconstruction of your argument to show how absurd it was.

      Shooting yourself in the foot isn't fun, eh?

      May 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Sam T. Princeton

      A reconstruction of someone else's argument into something different than what was said is by definition a straw man argument. You misrepresented what I said. Straw man.

      May 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Nah

      sam: "A reconstruction of someone else's argument into something different than what was said is by definition a straw man argument. You misrepresented what I said. Straw man."

      Logic isn't your forte, is it? The structure of the argument gives it validity. The structure of your argument was, essentially, that because Wallace was a Christian and a racist, all Christians are racist, or Christianity is racist.

      You may as well say the same thing about terrorism and Islam.

      I'm sorry you're too stupid to understand that.

      May 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Sam T. Princeton

      Straw man again, with some ad hominem to further discredit you.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Nah

      sam: "Straw man again, with some ad hominem to further discredit you."

      Not really.

      Much less: how and why is it a strawman? It tracks the structure of your argument exactly, plugs in new operative terms, and comes to the same conclusion you did.

      Maybe the principles of logical validity escape you, but the argument you gave (proof that Christians are racist) also gives rise to the inference that all Muslims are terrorists, and so on.

      You don't have to admit you were wrong, I know it'd be too embarrassing for you to do so. But try to be a bit less dogmatic, and a bit more rational, the next time you open your mouth.

      Cheers 🙂

      May 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Sam T. Princeton

      And you proved the straw man. My implicit point was not that Christianity is racist. It was that Christianity has all to often sided with evil, and been a major tool in the creation of evil. My point was hardly limited to racism, but it in no way implied that all Christians are racist. That was your misrepresentation of it, your straw man.

      You can chill on the petty condescention. It's a childish little pose unsupported by your actual grasp of rhetoric.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  15. Laverne

    @ f; you say Obama is not qualified to be president. Well who really is? Not unless you have been president before, no one is immune to the challenges or obstacles of being president. There certainly wasn't anything that George W. Bush had done to qualify him for presidency, not even being governor. Despite all the negativity surrounding Obama's presidency, he is doing just as good of a job as anybody else and certainly no worst. I take into consideration where a president start from to measure his successfulness. My challenge to you is don't be so closed minded when it comes to President Obama, he has been good for America and is a smart and hard working leader. His leadership qualities qualify him if nothing else!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      Laverne, In some respects, you are correct. I didn't particularly care for either Bush, Clinton or do I particularly care for Obama – not because he is black. I was initially open minded to give him a chance, much like I did with Clinton. His lack of leadership and unwillingness to do what is good for ALL of America – I cannot support him for reelection. The sad thing is that you are correct from the stand point that he is no better or no worse than the rest – and that's where I take issue with who we elect to run this country. We desperately need a viable candindate with morals and ethics that cannot be corrupted. I don't care if they call themselves, Democrat, Republicn or Liberterian. As Martin Luther King so aptly said "Judge a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin". – or, in my words, "Not his party affiliation".

      May 11, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • yvidac

      Well said Laverne, any rational thinking individual needs to ask that question. Who is qualified for president? What makes president Obama not qualified? The people of this country are too often irrational and jump on the band wagon without much thought. We have to trust our judgement based on the facts we have about candidates, but there is no way of knowing if they will be good at being president until they actually start the job.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Ryan

      Dennis, why is he a bad leader, and whay has he done that wasnt beneficial to Americans? Please elaborate, instead of just throwing it out there. You never said why you dont think he is a good leader.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  16. R

    Why victim should forgive criminal ? One reason, for peace of mind. Its tough some times. Forgivness is might not good for criminal. However, it is best healing power for victims.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  17. Pastor Carlton Evans

    A whole lot more people in America today need to do this!!!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      A whole lot more people in America today need to do this!!!........ on both side of the fence!

      And unless they do, there will be no healing, and our unity as a nation will be only a pretence to cover up decay....

      May 11, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  18. Preacherman

    Keep showing your other cheek, pretty soon you'll have no teeth.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • justathought

      Yes, but perhaps it's better to go through life toothless than bitter.

      And, for those of us who have known God's immediate/intimate love, the loss of a few (or all) of our "teeth" is a small loss.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Jesus

      The man is dead. The only issue is how will history record his conduct? Whether some condemn Wallace or forgive him is truly irrelevant..It is important that we remove any plaques or memeorials honoring this bigot as well as do the same for all who espoused bigotry.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Nah

      jesus: "It is important that we remove any plaques or memeorials honoring this bigot as well as do the same for all who espoused bigotry."

      The irony in this statement is unbelievable.

      Wallace was a pig, yes, but your short sighted damnatio memoriae is laughable. You'd rather destroy your opposition, silence them entirely and then erase their memory because you know they're wrong. But if they're wrong, your position should be susceptible to proof, and theirs to refutation, right?

      What a lover of liberty you must be.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • NoBull

      Amen.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Chantell

      true.... God says use wisdom, and to continue to let people have their way with your and you not retaliate is irrational, we have to assert outselves at some point. In moderation it's done properly.... I don't even know why their is a conversation about where this man is going to spend eternity anyway. what does that have to do with anything? Whatever he did on this earth was bad, but at the same time, that's on him HE has to answer for what HE did. So we should stop trying to come up with those answers because it doesn't apply to us... Can we please talk about something a little more productive like this BS going on in pakistan? or libya??? or the education crisis that's happening in our country? How about that.... I'm just saying...

      May 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  19. justaguy

    I like the reference to the conversion of Saul. Its a good reminder that we all need to allow others to repent and change their ways. Many of us sometimes struggle with that.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Jesus

      Whatever fantasies you have about an afterlife shouldn't color the REALITIES of what anyone did while alive. Wallace was a hateful coward who should be remembered as such. The "Ooops, I made a mistake" routine doesn't undo the harm.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • DEADINSIDE

      @ JESUS Sure must be nice to be perfect in every way

      May 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  20. GailS

    I was a little girl when Wallace was governor and I can't forgive him[[\\–not because of the vile acts he committed, but because of his intent. Toward the end of his life, Wallace said he never believed in the things he did and said. He was only a racist to further his career. It's more acceptable to me when bad things are done because of long-held beliefs, but Wallace created so much pain just to get a vote. Call me non-christian or whatever you want to call me, but he gets no sympathy from me. I hope he rots in hell.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • MikeR

      With that last sentense you just punched your ticket to Hell. Maybe you and George can hang out together.

      May 11, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • smiley

      Gail!, That's the beauty of this journey called life. We have spiritual awakenings and realize how much we were in error with our thoughts and actions in the past. Thank God he doesn't hold me to my past – I was a mess. You will find forgiveness, because He gives it freely. All we have to do is ask for it. It's not us, but Him who works through us to make it possible. All things are possible to them who believe. Peace!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • demo joseph

      You Go Girl........

      May 11, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Mike, you said
      "With that last sentense you just punched your ticket to Hell. Maybe you and George can hang out together."

      But you missed it... G.Wallaca humbled himself, therefore Gail is worse off then him. She may be looking for him there, but not find him there!

      May 11, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • MICHAEL GRAY

      YOU ARE TRULY RIGHT!!! DON'T ASK FOR FORGIVENESS AFTER YOU'RE ON YOUR WAY TO DIE!! HE CAUSED TOO MUCH PAIN IN THE LIVES OF SO MANY AFRICAN AMERICANS . LET SATAN HAVE HIM!!!!MG

      May 11, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      Gail – The only reason you should forgive Mr. Wallace is "because Jesus Christ tells us we must". You are not forgiving him for his good, but for yours. I remember as a kid in the 50's how differently black people were treated. I knew a lot of them and had several black friends in elementary school. My parents would invite them over, but their parents would not let them come. As a kid, I didn't understand it, but as an adult I now understand 2 things – 1. It was wrong to discriminate against people because of the color of their skin 2. It is wrong for the black community not to forgive and to continue to teach discrimination in their homes. God will judge each of us individually, not as a group. I pray you will let go of your unforgiveness and accept the fact that if you believe in God and want to be saved – forgiveness is not an option – it is a command from God Himself.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Jesus

      When Wallace made that infamous statement, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever" he sealed his fate. Admitting that he was wrong does not undo all the harm he caused. Wallace was a coward. He ran with the political tide in the South. When it turned, so did he. He was not a leader, but a rabble rouser who gave comfort to the cruel leagcy of bigotry.. Forgiveness is NOT the issue. Recording history ACCURATELY is what we must do for the generations that follow..

      May 11, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • BuB

      You're right. George was just jerking your chain.....and still is...obviously.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Desiree

      Do you not see any irony in what you're saying? Hate begets hate. Unless you are without sin, you are in no position to judge anyone. I hope you will learn to let go of your anger someday.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • gdouglaso

      I am sorry that you have been hurt to the level that you have, but it is imperative to let this hate go. The only person really harmed by it is yourself. Wallace understood this and asked for forgiveness.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • KJ

      George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave holders so I suppose they should rot in hell as well? Those were different times and places. People do change for the better and he was misguided...The Amazing Grace of George Wallace perhaps?

      May 11, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Frost

      Yes KJ, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson can rot in hell too....why should they get a pass?

      May 11, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Steve

      Gail,

      As you seem to believe in hell you appear to be a christian. At least in name only. I pray that you don't continue to use your religious affiliation like a credit card, In your back pocket out of sight and mind until you need it. I think the story of Saul is a good one to remember and pray that you find can learn something from it.

      As has already been pointed out forgiveness is not necessarily for the perpetrator but the victim. Keep on hating and see what that brings you. You'll be very lucky if it brings you something other than misery and depression.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Tante Waileka

      George Wallace is dead, Gail, so he doesn't need your 'sympathy'. But apparently YOU are in your 'juvenile' years, if you think your opinion on his life counts for anything. After Mr Wallace was confined to a wheelchair his nurse was a black man who was kindhearted, generous, and empathic. It is from HIM that Mr. Wallace had his eyes opened about his racism and came to accept black people as identically different yet the same as him. If there is a Heaven, Mr. Wallace may indeed be there, and btw, so might Adolph Hitler. What humankind thinks doesn't matter if there is a God, only GOD's opinion matters. If there is no God, then no one's opinion matters, if the person you are opinionating about is DEAD. Anyway you just confirm my own opinion which is that blacks are as racist today as whites were 60 years ago.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:11 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.