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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. ron

    tell it to the people who had to walk that line....not some preacher who was shining shoes some where else, not his place to for give or not,

    May 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Patrick R

    Is this the way of saying' I am white, tell someone who care!!

    May 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  3. bob

    hey Patrick R. It was Jim Crow law not Jim Clark law

    May 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Patrick R

      Thank's

      May 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  4. sadiesadie

    I am glad they were able to forgive this man because forgiveness is good for the soul.
    Btw the fact that I think Obama is a lousy president and I won't be voting for him has nothing to do with his race. If the race argument works in this situation then it should work in any situation. Every black, hispanic and asian person who didn't agree with Bush and didn't vote for him automatically becomes a racist fool... Kind of ridiculous thinking right?

    May 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  5. SouthernLady

    Generalized negative statements against people from the Southern United States is just as bad as the racism everyone is supposedly against. No one can say "All African American people" are one way or "All white people" are another way anymore than ALL Southerners are racist. It just is not true. It's not true of the people and it is not true of the whole culture. There are pockets of racism in the South as there are in places I've been to in upstate NY. Ignorance is everywhere there are people.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  6. fauxshizzle

    Yet another attempt to bring up ancient garbage by CNN the Concerning NOT NEWS agency.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  7. Patrick R

    I'll forgive him when all the missing people are found.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  8. The Woof

    I can forgive the man because my beliefs tell me to forgive because if I can't forgive how can I expect to be forgiven? There are so many people in this world that say they adhere to Christian beliefs but let so many human emotions and weakness get in the way of those beliefs. There are also many that say they are Christian but look only to the verses that justify their paticular way of thinking and those verses I've were in the Old Testament. I can only hope that the New Testament is read and it's teachings are applied by all who follow the Lamb.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  9. MetWallace

    As high school seniors, we went to hear George Wallace when he came to Massachusetts during his run for the presidency (1975-1976). He was genuinely thoughtful, considerate, and altogether a different person than he had been originally. He even made a point of approaching us and asking our interest. We told him that we had been skeptical of his claims of moderation, but that we were willing to listen to him, and to try and understand his viewpoints. He thanked us for our open-minded interest. I was ineligible to vote in that election, but I always felt that he had become a much more decent person after the assassination attempt.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Artist

      observer

      I don't believe that the South has really changed since 1861 or 1963.

      -----------
      I have friends down there and I would say you are correct. It will take many more generations before it truly changes. Perhaps this is tied to inbreeding in some way?

      May 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  10. ARE YOU SERIOUS?

    This article presents a warped, even dangerous understanding of forgiveness. True forgiveness happens when the one asking forgiveness feels bad AND actively changes his/her actions. Feeling bad but doing the same thing means you just want your conscious soothed but, deep down, you feel justified. Telling that person "you're forgiven" isn't forgiveness; that's telling people we're easily duped by crocodile tears and they don't have to change even when it keeps hurting entire populations.. absurd!

    As a minister, Croom should know not to compare Wallace and Paul. Paul changed his ways and actually joined/worked on behalf of the people he originally persecuted. He sought to undo the wrongs he (and others) did. If Wallace was really sorry, he would've publicly asked forgiveness just like he publicly encouraged racism. He would've actively joined the ranks of the people he had persecuted and discouraged others from persecuting them. Just like Paul, he would've rejected the perks and benefits he received from being a wrongdoer in his earlier life. Did Wallace do any of this?

    Please people, how can we progress as a nation if we let all these wrongdoers–of any race, gender, religion, etc– off the hook when they're STILL reaping the benefits of taking advantage of us? When will we stop falling for sobb stories?

    May 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Patrick R

      Your right' it call Republicanism today. We wan't our Country back, back to the good old days' hang em high and low for every to see!!

      May 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  11. dbzl

    Forgiveness, wow Democrat shocking, but very real knowing the history of the party. I just find it amazing that black people can be so forgiving over the years for the blatant wrongs that have been perpetrated against them. So forgiving and still struggling for equality and respect. is sad

    May 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Patrick R

      Time change' get over it or ask the Mexicans!!

      May 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  12. observer

    I don't believe that the South has really changed since 1861 or 1963.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Patrick R

      Oh yes they change' to the Republican party when the Democratic became the party of the people and for the people!!

      May 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • mat

      That's because you're a moron.

      May 11, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  13. observer

    It is not relevant that Wallace was a democrat or a republican, he was a Southerner.....

    Souhterner = racist = white supremacist = KKK

    May 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • pete

      you need to watch your mouth and not lump everyone together. i live in the south (i'm half white) and i surely don't hate people of different races. my wife is white and so is her family. they don't hate people of different races. if you don't know what you are talking about, keep your mouth shut.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • kimjongill

      you got that right...nobody should be trusted in the south, they are always waiting for that opportunity to linch you and or hang you

      May 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Gary

      That is a serious accusation against Presidents Carter and Clinton, as well as the current Secretary of State.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  14. Really

    Wallace was a "Democrat" imagine that.....

    May 11, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Patrick R

      I don't know let's ask God' God is always on the side of the rich and powerful aganst the helpless!!

      May 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Patrick R

      Yeah' hard to believe the change today!!

      May 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • ScottK

      There are racists in every party, just like there are bright minds and morons, though mostly morons...

      May 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  15. bexum

    Yes I remember Gov. Wallace and what he said and stood for but I also remember Jesus bleeding,wounded and dieing on the cross for us all and what he said. "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do". So I ask this this. How is it as a country and nation founded on Christian principals and values do we have all this hate in this country still. When you see people(I don`t care of what color or race) spouting hate and intolerance because of their political beliefs but claim to be Christians. When I see this I ask my self how do they pray or talk to God with a straight face?

    May 11, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • beth

      Why was there the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust, the horrible treatment of Native Americans at the hands of Christians, slavery, segregation, the KKK and more all done by Christians? Christianity at this heart has love and lots of beauty but the practice of Christianity has been marred by acts done in the name of Christianity that are horrific. So, when you ask how this country could still have hate when it was founded on 'Christian principles' I would ask how anyone would think Christianity is all good given things like the Crusades, the inquisition, etc. Just like any religion Christianity has produced people who did great good and also horrific things.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Moo

      beth: "So, when you ask how this country could still have hate when it was founded on 'Christian principles' I would ask how anyone would think Christianity is all good given things like the Crusades, the inquisition, etc."

      And the ancient Italians engaged in pedophilia, slaughtered barbarians, destroyed Carthage, killed all their enemies, took their gold and resources, used slaves, and so on. Should we therefore hate Italians? Should they be ashamed of themselves? Should they destroy the Roman Forum and all art and architecture?

      Whether you're pointing at Islam, Christianity, a nationality or a political ideology, pointing out instances of history where people perpetrated violence and bigotry, and happened to be X party or Y religion, is fallacious. Human beings are violent insofar as they're human, and nothing else. Whether the justification for their violence comes from religion, politics, or out of greed and vanity, is irrelevant.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Qw36

      Moo: You're arguing against something Beth did not say. In fact, you are making her point. Bexum's original question was how could people who call themselves Christian have such hate in their hearts. Beth was just highlighting that this shouldn't be particularly surprising because innumerable people throughout history have called themselves Christian and then gone on to do much worse things. Look at the sentences you quoted again, Beth didn't say that Christianity wasn't good, she said it wasn't ALL good. I mean, her last sentence is "Just like any religion Christianity has produced people who did great good and also horrific things."

      May 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  16. Patrick R

    He was Osama" before there was...Osama!!

    May 11, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • roughrider

      Yea, there were alot of terrorism going on in the south and bin lauden wasn't born .lol

      May 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  17. Jimbo

    If Wallace was a republican this article wouldn't even have been written. CNN would not give a republican the chance for this kind of forgivness, no way. I'm glad he has come around and people are able to forgive the old Governor but there is another reason this article was published.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Nah

      jimbo: "CNN would not give a republican the chance for this kind of forgivness, no way."

      Notice how they didn't mention he was a Democrat. Not that that's relevant, but if it Wallace had been a Republican, it'd be plastered all over the article.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Patrick R

      Back then Democrat or Republican didn't matter, we are talking Jim Clark Law' he does what most of the white in his State and the South want's, and ready to fight and die for and has fight and die for, it's a different time now however you may feel this way because the Republican slowly moving that way, ask the Mexicans.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Nah

      patrick: "Back then Democrat or Republican didn't matter, we are talking Jim Clark Law"

      You're the worst troll ever.

      But because this is a common misconception: it did matter who were Democrats and who were Republicans. The Southern Democrats chaired all the committees in Congress and were the specific reason the Republicans and moderate Democrats could never get civil rights legislation passed.

      If you remember, again, who wrote the 13th and 14th amendments, the Civil Rights Acts of the 1860's and 1870's, the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act under Eisenhower that was shot down, the 1991 Civil Rights Amendments, etc. etc. All Republican ventures, all supported by moderate Democrats.

      'ask Mexicans now'

      Republicans are generally against illegal immigration because the people who come to the U.S. illegally are, essentially, cheating the system. Not because they're Mexican, not because of their race.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Daniel

      I quick view of history confirms that Wallace and his ilk were effectively jettisoned by the Democratic party when it spear-headed civil rights legislation, thereby losing the Southern vote to this day. In essence this means that the white, formerly Democratic Southerner, continues to vote against their own self interest because of latent and unresolved racism.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Moo

      daniel: "I quick view of history confirms that Wallace and his ilk were effectively jettisoned by the Democratic party when it spear-headed civil rights legislation"

      Not really. In fact, at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City Johnson himself refused to let the Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party sit because he was afraid that having blacks in the convention would lose him the southern vote.

      So much for integration and doing the right thing.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Oh Really

      @jimbo: "CNN would not give a republican the chance for this kind of forgivness, no way."
      If Wallace had been a Republican this wouldn't even be an issue. Back then and even farther back then this time, it was the Democrats who were pushing segregation and inequality of African Americans and only when it came to votes, did they pretend to look at African Americans as Humans Beings.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Zeb

      Nah, the sentiment that Wallace carried during that tumultuous time is the sentiment that was commonly bannered by the Republican party. The Grand Ol' Party stood for exclusion. If it ain't white, it ain't right. Not much has changed. And your history lesson is laughable. You should stop taking talking points from Psychotic "news" casters like Glen Beck. YOU'RE the biggest "troll" ever.

      May 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Get a Grip

      nice try.. but you're wrong. CNN did a very touching story online and on air about the white man that beat up Rep. Roy Lewis decades ago during a civil rights march. This man came forward to find Lewis, get together, and apologize for his actions. Both men were in tears, it was very touching and healing for your country.To your point though, you don't see many stories of republicans apologizing for their past racism, because racist hatred and "the Southern Dixie Tradition" is alive and well at the very core of the Republican party. So look there if you want to find appeals for forgiveness and healing.. Wallace was a great anomaly.

      May 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Nah

      zeb: "Nah, the sentiment that Wallace carried during that tumultuous time is the sentiment that was commonly bannered by the Republican party."

      It's really incredible to see someone so totally ignorant of history make categorical, historical statements like this.

      The history of the Republican party easily refutes what you've said, but take a look too at the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Not only was Everett Dirksen one of the leading sponsors, virtually every Republican voted for the bill.

      The stumbling block to the 1964 Act was all the southern Democrats in Congress.

      "The Grand Ol' Party stood for exclusion. If it ain't white, it ain't right. Not much has changed. And your history lesson is laughable. You should stop taking talking points from Psychotic "news" casters like Glen Beck. YOU'RE the biggest "troll" ever."

      Ah, yes. Have nothing intelligent to say, no facts to refute what's been said, so blame it on Glenn Beck.

      Brilliant.

      'The GOP stood for exclusion'

      That must be why Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock so African-Americans could go to school, right? And why Republicans passed the 1991 Civil Rights Amendments to expand remedies for gender and race discrimination in the work place?

      Try again.

      May 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Nah

      get: "To your point though, you don't see many stories of republicans apologizing for their past racism, because racist hatred and "the Southern Dixie Tradition" is alive and well at the very core of the Republican party. So look there if you want to find appeals for forgiveness and healing.. Wallace was a great anomaly."

      Are you for real? Or do you make up facts with the hopes that they're true?

      The "Southern Dixie Tradition" was a Democrat tradition. Republicans never accepted racism and fought hard against it for over a hundred years. When the south turned republican after the 60's it was out of spite for the Democrats and out of a pursuit for "state's rights", not because the Republicans welcomed them with open arms and definitely not because Republicans espoused their racist views.

      Perhaps opening a history book, rather than watching the Daily Show, would do you some good.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  18. dan

    WALLACE DOES NOT NEED FORGIVING

    May 11, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • TheNerd

      Who are you to judge (besides moi, of course)?

      May 11, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Dale56

      No, Wallace simply needs forgetting.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Patrick R

      True' Hell is good if there is a Hell.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • The Woof

      Don't call yourself a Christian if you can't forgive.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  19. Patrick R

    Say again why' I don't get it!!

    May 11, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • skpfrmdc

      reread article with brain on. This should not be hard to fathom.

      May 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  20. mrgup2

    What bothers me most is the lack of the understanding of the importance of forgiveness on THIS website, not Alabama.

    What I see in this article is success thru facing hard facts and confronting them, not excuses and blame and anger and resentment and hate and jealousy or NONE of that.

    Two people willing to CHANGE for the better. We ALL can do it. Do we want to?

    IT IS EASIER TO HATE THAN TO FORGIVE!!!
    The "easy" way is only ALWAYS the "right" way here in America...where we refuse to face facts and deal with consequences.

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

      Well said mrgup2, very well said. Spewing hate and having a lack of compassion are the easy way out. It's hard to confront pain for many and they bash others instead of rethinking their beliefs or adequately evaluating the beliefs of others. I'm glad that not everyone on this website subscribes to that methodology. Good day.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:44 am |
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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.