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. Mike

    How shocking! Another article about racism by CNN.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Mike

      Keep that racial divide going, CNN!

      May 14, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • skarphace

      How shocking! Another idiot that completely misinterprets a story by CNN.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  2. Raymond

    No doubt being crippled damaged the man's soul. Segregation made sense back then, and it makes even more sense now.

    Have whites benefited from allowing blacks to live among them? No, things have gotten worse for whites in every possible way.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • skarphace

      You need to segregate yourself. Go away and hide in the hills someplace. I am sure you will find others that agree with you hiding out there as well.

      Have Americans benefited from allowing racists to live among them? No, things have gotten worse for America in every possible way.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Raymond

      America became the richest, most powerful country in history under the governance of "racists."

      May 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • skarphace

      Sure, because when you don't have to pay a large portion of the working population you make more profits. Why don't you try working 60 hours a week under grueling conditions and mistreatment as well as not being able to leave under threat of death without pay for a while. I am sure your employers will get richer for your efforts.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Raymond

      Attributing the rise of the US to "exploitation" is the most predictable kind of leftist twaddle.

      Everything is better when whites run things, and blacks know it.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  3. pam

    Adam, slavery goes all the way back to the Mosaic Law in the Bible. There were laws that prevented the mistreatment of slaves. If the owner treated his slaves he could be punished by God. Every 7th yr. and every Jubilee yr. slaves were to be released or they could stay with the master of the household if they were happy and many were. So please don't blame God for what mankind has done over the centries. James 1:13 says God cannot be tried with Evil things.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  4. dm

    28000 people killed in the capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan by France Licorne forces and Ouattara rebels. GENOCIDE ON YOUR WATCH OBAMA JUST LIKE CLINTON DID WITH RWANDA

    May 14, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • skarphace

      And that has to do with this story how?

      May 14, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Derp

      It doesn't, but nutters don't need an excuse.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  5. skarphace

    @joey: in my view, this story was much more about forgiveness than it was apology. Sure, it would have been hard for Wallace to admit he was wrong and apologize to those people he had wronged. However, it would have been much harder for those that were wronged to forgive Wallace for the things he had done to them. Without God, we would all be apologists, and nobody would be able to forgive.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  6. hjs3

    Noble indeed...

    May 14, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  7. Williams

    This story reminds of the hatred so many Americans have today of Muslims lumping them all together as terrorists and not understanding that Islam is divided up into different religious beliefs.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  8. John

    Can we stop talking about the color of our skin for 5 freakin minutes?

    May 14, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  9. adam

    Racism is real. they told you God loves you at church but they will hate you like hell on the streets. remember there was mega churchs and good people but most of those people including the preachers own a slaves.
    I just don't Belief (you) the jesus loving people!!!!!!
    I can't imagin how black people still belief christianinity afte being inslaved for so long.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Larry

      "Racism" is real, and you've got a real "racist" right here.

      Permitting blacks in one's society has been demonstrated, time and again, to lead to disaster.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Rev. Al

      Who was it that sold blacks into slavery in the first place??? I believe it was black slave traders in Africa – look it up. While referencing that, you might also find that prior to the Civil War some of the more profitable slave owners were actually black. Maybe you should try to get the whole picture, not just the popular side that makes you hate white people.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  10. ajaj

    Wallace was no different than the current white supremacists hating on Obama. Not much has changed.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  11. cardsfan65

    Wallace was an evil man who knew the end was near,he knew he was about to stand in front of god ......that's why he asked for forgiveness,because the end was near for him and he was going to face the ultimate judge(GOD)

    May 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  12. Russ

    I hope Tuscaloosa rebuilds like Greensburg KS. That is using green technology and building technology that will survive a tornado.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  13. Bernard Hopkins

    CNN's favorite subject – white guilt. Have you ever seen an article about young black men apologizing for committing so much of the violent crime in America? I haven't either.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Dakkian

      Have you ever read a story about the white men responsible for forcing African-Americans into such desperate situations?

      May 14, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Rev. Al

      How exactly have white men forced black men into "such desperate situations"? This is a free country. If black men find themselves in desperate situations, like whether or not to engage in criminal activity or laziness, that is their doing. And, its high time that white people stop listening to the whining and crying of the majority of the parasites in the underachieving black race about why whites should feel sorry for them. Take responsibility for your own actions! Also, why you would refer to yourself as an African-American is beyond me, when your own ancestors (Africans) are responsible for selling blacks into slavery in the first place.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  14. JoSteed

    I'm at the Quarry coffee shoppe at Dickinson College & overheard student talking, one of which called George Wallace a typical Republican. Well, I jumped in and said Wallace was a Democrat. Ha! They all scoffed. I said look it up yourself! What a shame that college students are so ignorant to political realities. Kudos to Rev. Croom! He's what we need to become.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Jack

      Yes indeed, a yellow dog democrat! The ones that eventually switched to the Republican side.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • drumr1111

      Actually, you're half right. He was a Dixiecrat. Conservative anti-civil rights Democrats who would eventually join the Republican party and became part of the "Southern Strategy". The students you overheard weren't far off base.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  15. jl cooper

    Can't CNN find something more newsworthy than continually digging up ancient stories about race?

    May 14, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Jay

      You missed the main point. This article is about Forgiveness.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Williams

      There is not much to learn from history is there?

      May 14, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • ed

      The so called religious nonsense is the core of his redemption. Try it. Perhaps you'll come to grips with any struggles you may have.

      May 14, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  16. joey spumoni

    too bad a story of a man correcting his behaviour and apologizing to his victims turns into a bunch of religious nonsense.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Anna 1953

      This isn't ancient. It's about someone who just survived the recent tornados, and has an important experience he wants to share with usl

      May 14, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • T. Cooper

      Look in side your heart and find god he is there just have to find him and god bless you

      May 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Cheryl

      Couldn't agree with you more. I'm so sick of religious nuts thinking that everything and everyone revolves around god.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  17. Orange Sunshyne

    I am from Alabama, and there was a time when I despised George Wallace.
    As much as he was hated by the Blacks in his earlier years as the governor, he made great strides in his latter years to mend the fences and became a friend of the Blacks. They were instrumental in his being re-elected as governor in his last terms as governor.
    I still have mixed feelings about Wallace, but as I would see him in the years before he died, I had great pity for him. Hd suffered terribly after he was shot and paralyzed.
    The state of Alabama has come a long way since the 60s as well as the United States, but we have a long way to go.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  18. JC

    First let me say I'm white and Jewish, but it's stories like this that actually make me disappointed in my country. Why can't a man like this emerge as a political leader instead of the dolts being fed down our throats today? Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, it's virtually unfair to compare this man's perspective to those power hungry, selfish elitists. It takes courage to forgive, learn and grow. I applaud the work of Croom family.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • T. Cooper

      May god bless Tuscaloosa and may all the people there know that god has not turned his back he is the one holding you up in this low low days god bless you all and know that a lady from Texas is sending her prays and hope of love to you all

      May 14, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • whatwhatwhat

      God made the tornadoes, T. Cooper. And the tsunami. He made all of the bad stuff and you refuse to see it. He's trying to kill everyone, and yet you sit there and analyze only one side of it. It's really easy to cope with disaster without jeebus; you accept that nature is going to do what it's going to do, and you carry on. No reason for delusional behavior. I personally try to live in an area that is not prone to major natural disasters.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  19. Freddy Miano

    I haven't read any comments yet but that powerful story has been annalysed by a strong and better sentence for all humanity......the last sentence

    May 14, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • whatwhatwhat

      It should have said, "If a lot of us would forget about religion and it's hypocritical, racist ways, we could find healing. We could find peace."

      May 14, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  20. Nija

    Love conquers all. Try and send an email I LOVE YOU to someone that you HATE OR DESPISE. Many people have wronged you and vise vis a vis. Pls take this time for reflection and you will have that heavy burden lifted of you by God.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:15 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.