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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. Dan

    As long as the U.S. and other backwards countires encourage anti-education, i.e. reading only Bibles and Qurans for seeking knowledge and truth, then human beings will always be bigots.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • cpg35223

      That's funny. A bigot writing a post decrying bigotry. Imagine that.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  2. Christopher E.

    This change of heart or "metanoia" is at the center of the Christian tradition–This was repeated over and over again in the gospels–sadly very many legalistic and judgmental Christians miss Christ's entire mission. They actually have no idea that born again is this metanoia not some ritualistic so called acceptance of Jesus. Christians may be well surprised to see all creeds represented in Heaven whatever that is. LOL OMG BFF....

    May 14, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  3. Tommy Wiseau

    "If everybody loved each other, the world would be a better place."~Tommy Wiseau, The Room

    May 14, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  4. cpg35223

    Forgiving is one thing. Forgetting is another.

    One of the crowning ironies of George Wallace's career is that he was returned to the governor's mansion again and again by the black vote, the very people he tried his best to keep down. And the cynical backroom deal cutting that Wallace made with black preachers and black ward heels was at the heart of his strategy.

    The result? Years and years of awful, awful government. Alabama over the past ten years had made huge strides in recovering from Wallace's corrupt mismanagement and machine politics, but we have a long way to go. And stories like that of the Crooms being duped by this gangster are a big reason for the man's catastrophic administrations.

    May 14, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  5. NJD

    The Gov. certainly seems to have had an 'epiphany' later in his life. Either old age or from being crippled. Anyway, it's always a good thing when people eventually see the light.

    May 14, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  6. abd@abc.com

    The path of the righteous.

    Is righteous.

    May 14, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  7. PRISM 1234

    "Everyone in the world is born with racism, but USA manually fixed it with the Christian principles."...

    Thank you, Adelina, for saying what you said... There for a while America was on right path... But sadly, America is loosing it's Christian heritage, and becoming a nation where ungodliness is spreading like a wildfire. This nation has been established by people who dedicated it to God, and we know what happens to those persons, nations or societies who, after knowing Him, choose to shut Him out and reject Him... That's why to pray "God bless America" in shape she is, it's a WRONG prayer. God has already blest her. If He blest her more in the way she is going, the stench of her pride would reach to the high heavens....
    The correct prayer is " God help America, humble her leaders and her people, and turn their hearts to Yourself" That's the only prayer that's fitting for country in the shape this one is! because pride comes before destruction. And if this country, her leaders and people do not humble themselves before Almighty God, destruction, through corruption, decay and inward rottenness will cave this nation from within! No terrorists efforts needed...

    May 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Adelina

      Prism1234, I agree with you. But America has hope because of the many live godly Christians within her who are battling for righteousness and justice. And Christians around the world who were reached, rescued and educated by American Christians will go on, never forgetting the American sacrifice and American contributions. Godly America has numerous descendants everywhere. American Christians are still powerfully shining the hope for all mankind.

      May 14, 2011 at 2:38 am |
    • pat carr

      what utter drivel. America is made up of many religions or lack of. I'm sorry if you don't realize america isn't a christian theocracy

      May 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  8. Adelina

    Something that the greatest about USA is that its majority voluntarily recognized its minority as equal without outer forces making it do it (It's very, very rare in the human world), and changed the rest of the world teaching racism is wrong. Everyone in the world is born with racism, but USA manually fixed it with the Christian principles.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • BGirl

      Short-term and long-term memory loss must be clouding your perceptions. I remember that it took thousands of lives and injuries, changing laws, activist Judges (yes, those judges that the conservatives hate) to change the "hearts" of America. It did not come as an overnight revelation. My thanks to the people of this country of all races who fought and died to make America a better country.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Anna 1953

      Hi, Adelina,

      Let us not forget the large number of brave Jewish Americans who played such huge role in desegregation.

      And I always felt that it was the Christian values of the AFRICAN-AMERICAN community - far, far more than the Christian values
      of white Americans - that made desegregation possible. It is amazing, the patience, the commitment to non-violence, following the path of Jesus ("turn the other cheek") demonstrated throughout terrible, terrible times by our African-American brothers and sisters
      that freed our nation.

      Some white Christian Americans were involved (my parents being examples). But they were a minority.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  9. Wade

    In 1982 Wallace won the Alabama Democratic primary (at that time, the only game in town) against far-more-liberal Birminghamian George Mcmillan ... because of Wallace's black support. African-American voters in the largely rural Black Belt preferred fellow countryman Wallace to the big-city McMillan camp. Remember that Wallace started his political career as an anti-Klan Folsom/New South Progressive Democrat, and he returned to that tradition in the late 70s. Rural black voters noticed, white liberals didn't, and they were stunned when Wallace won because of his black support.

    Remember that in 1982, the "stand in the schoolhouse door" and Wallace's "Segregation Forever!" speech was as far in the past for Alabama's black voters as Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers is for us today. In 1984, Jesse Jackson carried all-white Jackson County, Alabama. In both cases, blacks and whites were voting on present-tense issues that meant a lot to them. The fact that we today can't remember the Alabama issues of 1982 and 1984 doesn't mean that those black and white folks were stupid then. It means that we're ignorant today.and don't know our own histories.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  10. Patchouliii

    Just curious ... how many of you have been able to forgive Michael Vick?

    May 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Patchouliii asks: "how many of you have been able to forgive Michael Vick?

      I'll ask my dog when I get back home...

      May 12, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • MikeinAthens

      Well, I somehow don't remember Vick coming and asking for forgiveness, concerned about his immortal soul. Get back to me when that happens, OK?

      May 14, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Patchoulii

      MikeinAthens,

      I'm back. Not only did Vick apologize, he apologize without making any excuses. It was reported by the Associated Press and it's on the ESPN website.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  11. (required)

    Why this preacher feels the need to forgive, he would do better to seek the truth of the matter before jumping in bed with the KKK...

    May 11, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  12. RHSimard

    Wallace was not only a major player in Southern politics; he made the ticket as a presidential candidate in '68 and took 5 Southern states and some ten million popular votes, so his name, politics and reputation were common knowledge nationwide (and beyond). It is this very prominence in American politics makes his turnaround all the more powerful.

    May 11, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  13. Richard Ward

    Wallace was a bigot, a true racist and a product of the times. Lest anyone forget, this period in American history was a turning point and there was enough hatred on both sides of the color divide to consume everyone. I would like to think that the people who have lived through it–white and black–have learned valuable lessons and can serve as role models for our youth. I am a New York northerner who spent some very memorable time in Mississippi in 1966/67 and will NEVER forget what I witnessed. Wallace epitomized the times and when he asked forgiveness from those who he knows that he wronged it epitomized the change that was taking place in this country. It is a long road to travel and we as a country have not reached the end of it but we are so much closer today then we were 50 years ago.

    May 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • CSM

      So true RW but many of those screaming radical racists are alive and kicking today expounding the same ole hate disguised
      as polictic. Taking "our country" back or more recently "the secular socialist people around (President Barack) Obama and the degree to which they do not understand America, cannot possibly represent America and cannot lead us to success." Newt...Interpreted it as you will but so so subtle racists. We understand code words too. We may see more change as the baby-boomers die out in about 10-15 years.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Lulu

      Forgiveness is a tough road. I will never forget George Wallace and his hate mongering. As governor, he set the stage for murder at the 16th Street Baptist church, and for the police violence throughout Alabama. I was a white girl from Birmingham who was the same age as though 4 little girls who were killed. That was the day I came to see the truth about many adults around me. So far I have struggled and thus far failed at forgiveness although I do see his remorse. I will always blame him for fanning the flames of inequality and in truth he did much more behind the scenes than make speeches.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  14. Paul Willson

    an examplwe to all of us

    May 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  15. David

    I believe this story! When I was in elementary school in Montgomery Alabama in the early 90s my family and I were leaving Piccadilly’s (a southern style cafeteria restaurant) in the Mall. This old man was being wheelchaired into the restaurant as we were leaving. My parents stopped and proceeded to talk to him. He introduced himself to me and my sister. He was extremely nice and gave my sister and I money! Years later my parents informed me that the old man was Governor Wallace. We are African Americans.

    May 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @David
      I praise God for His marvelous grace, and for what He can do in a man's heart!

      May 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Robert

      Great! Thanks for sharing that event!

      May 14, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Anna 1953

      Lovely! Thanks for sharing that memory, David!
      Your parenets were very gracious to stop and speak to Wallace.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  16. B-Dog

    Anyone think that twister in Tuscaloosa was karma?

    May 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • dustl

      No, because one twister is minuscule compared to centuries of oppression.

      May 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • B

      That's an ignorant statement, the worst hit areas in Tuscaloosa were Rosedale Courts and Alberta City – two poor and largely African-American communities. Do your homework before making ignorant statements.

      It's funny how people who claim others are ignorant are often ignorant themselves....

      May 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Petros

      Well, since karma is every bit as imaginary as god (all several thousand of them), I guess that just leave a random act of nature to blame. The truth is so mundane, isn't it?

      May 12, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • cpg35223

      That's a stupid comment. Because most of the people who died in those twisters never voted for George Wallace, nor took part in the evils of segregation. In fact, given how the twister swept through some mostly-black neighborhoods, I'm pretty sure karma had nothing to do with the events on April 27.

      I'm always amazed at how idiot posters will just write about anything to make a cheap joke.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  17. SophieCat

    I read several times that the pain George Wallace endured after the shooting was absolutely excruciating. Searing, excruciating pain.

    Good.

    May 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • dustl

      Unfortunately, physical pain is never the same as emotional pain.

      May 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  18. DEADINSIDE

    "If a lot of us would forgive people, we could find healing. We could find peace." No truer words can be spoken!

    May 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  19. ajc

    I love this story. Thank you Lord.

    May 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. Patrick R

    My apologies to my neighbor Jim Clarke and all Jim Clarke I went too far with that one and I do care for everyone this is just chat room faceless talk, later all.

    May 11, 2011 at 1:13 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.