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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. 21k

    if only lincoln had nuclear weapons back then, we could have a more united country today.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  2. Jonathan

    This is a nice article but it must be a slow news day...whenever that happens CNN likes to inform us of how hard it is to be a Tejano living in somewhere, or a half Vietnamese-Chinese migrant worker, or there's always another blame-the-south-for-something article they can fall back on...

    May 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • JanN

      No news is good news in my book!

      May 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  3. Kaylee

    My grandfather, who adopted me, was involved with George Wallace. I'm not ecaxtly sure but he may have been his campaign manager. It saddened me when I grew up to learn about what Wallace stood for. This article makes me feel better. My grandfather died a racist. I think if he had lived long enough the mantle of lies that fed his predjudice would have been dissolved. The truth sets people free.... and time has a way of revealing truth because lies can't stand the test of time. Problem is people often die before they have a chance to discover they were deceived.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Rick

      Your grandfather was a wise man who recognized the plain truth that blacks are not fit to live among whites.

      Please refrain from dirtying his memory.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  4. East 4TH ST Kid

    The Rev. Groom like so many Black gentleman has a Heart as big as America. But I think that Wallace was more like Saul than Paul. If Wallace wanted forgiveness he should have gotten down on his knees ( With help of cource) on the very spot he stood to denie access to those young children and begged all those in the world he offended to forgive him, not just a few distinguished Black Gentleman.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  5. JanN

    I'm just saying the past can't be changed, the future can for our kids, and our kid's kids etc.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  6. dawit

    a very interesting and inspiring article into how we all want to do the right thing at the end of the day.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  7. hotrod7

    I was born and raised in Alabama.I left Alabama in 1980 for a career in the US Navy.Because of racism and history I do not want to live in Alabama today.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • BillyBob117

      Then do not go there--now wasn't that easy for you to understand-–I ams sure that AL. feels the same way about you.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  8. JanN

    Try it yourself Bubba10...nothing wrong with meeting in the middle. This country is way too polarized politically to get anything seriously done to fix our problems. I an not optimistic, but pray and hope!

    May 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  9. mtrought

    PPl who have realise the errors of their racist ways should go around the country motivating more integration. There are still restaurants in the south that dont serve black ppl. There is a town in texas that tells black ppl not to stay overnight.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  10. Edward Maxwell Jr

    What a great story! The bible tells us to forgive 70 x 7. Even the thief murderer on the cross was forgiven so why not George Wallace. If America could understand itself and quit calling itself a melting pot when it is indeed a strew pot with many different and glorious flavors, and we could all forgive the segregation/criminal acts of African Americans in the past, then the future is ours to truly become a great nation under God. It looks like George Wallace knew he was on his way to Hell in a hand basket. What will it take for the rest of bias Americans to come sit at the table.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Phil McSorley

      To Mark in the post above....NICE TRY! SO that is the way you lefties are trying to change history? claiming the democrats of the sixties turned into republicans of the 70's.LOL...That IS HILARIOUS...... Soooooo, JFK, a Democrat, and all of his lefty brothers and family should now be Republicans by your logic..... good one.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  11. Bubba10

    Hopefully one day Newt, Rush, and Beck will ask for forgiveness for the division and hate they have sown.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Phil McSorley

      Geez....look at the history here. All of these Southern Governors have one thing in common....THEY ARE ALL DEMOCATS! The Racism spewed against Martin Luther King (who was a Republican) were from the Democratic Party!

      May 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • BillyBob117

      You are one sick, pathetic, desperate and lying lefty.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Robert

      I'm puzzled why GOP-ers are so quick to claim the support of MLK, a known plagiarist, drunkard and womanizer.

      Oh, wait, I know. They're afraid that libs will call them bad things.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Mark

      To Phil Mcsorly, You realize that there was a major shift in the political parties. It used to be Democrats were to the right while Republicans were to the left. They shifted in the seventies. Make sure to know your history before biased statements.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  12. Tommy Wiseau

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

    May 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  13. C

    Unfortunatley, wicked racist people in their prime don't realize the lives they ruin with their bigotry. Even if we realize the truth later in life, they will still have to reap what was sowed.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  14. John Edwards

    His brother is Sly Croom, the former head football coach at Mississippi State and current running backs coach at St Louis (NFL). There is a Sly Croom award at the University of Alabama honoring a special player each year. Interesting how things come full circle.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  15. JanN

    I am a WASP, firm Christian and I love this article and everything it stands for...never knew that about Wallace and his attempt of reconciliation with the people of our country he oppressed and our Savior Jesus Christ. Could use an epidemic of that.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  16. pam

    Would somebody please tell my why the white race is so superior? It's not even the original race. The original race was created in the middle east where the garden of eden is located, where exactly no one knows but none the less.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      Yes I would assume IF the stories from the Bible are true, Jesus would have looked a bit more like Osama bin Laden than Americans would have liked. Being an Arab does not make you evil. Being an extremist murderer does. Let's not hate those who have done nothing to us.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • NotAvailablen

      Will someone tell me why Pam's question is relevant to anyone but a racist?

      May 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Welljus

      Wait a minute, I thought man came from Africa. And then spread all over the globe. No? Besides, this white man domain thing is just another chapter in the long, long history of the world. There have been many empires and each and every one thought they were the best of the best.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • sanforce

      Of course, no race is actually superior. But the idea that the white race is superior simply comes from the cultural and technological advancements made throughout history, which has allowed the white race to successfully suppress the others. I strongly believe that this is simply human (or animal) nature, to rally around your "group" above all others, and to the detriment of all others. It takes time to leave these instincts behind, but I for one, am glad that we have and still are evolving away from the bigotry of our past.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  17. Steve

    This was a great story.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Gov. Wallace and Ga. Gov. Lester Maddox might have learned about the utter futility of segregation, but there are still people who have branded Pres. Obama unworthy of serving as the Chief Executive simply because he is black, has too many vowels in his name or any other similarly inane reason. I may not agree with everything he's done so far, but he has been able to accomplish more than anyone could imagine, including ordering the invasion of bin Laden's stronghold. While many of Obama's opponents came out to support him for giving the order, some secretly wished they'd had the power and the nerve to do it.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • skarphace

      It seems that two coinciding events have happened that has shown without a doubt that racism is still a major problem in America. First, the anonymity of the Internet allows people to speak their minds without fear of it coming back to them. Second, America elected a multiracial person to the highest office in the US. Anyone who thought that we didn't have a long way to go as far as race relations now know better.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Phil McSorley

      Jeff,
      The hate speech coming from Obama and the Democratic Party is frightening! They label anyone that disagrees with them as "racists". I see every legistaltion coming through during the OBAMA presidency and Democratic controlled congress with "racist" policies that seek to divide people along racial and ethnic lines. They tax the "rich" (ie..productive class) to give to the unproductive in society.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Rocco P

      One of the factors which caused me NOT to vote for Obama in the last election was indeed the matter of racism. First, he sat for years under the preaching of "Rev." Wright, who uses some very racially charged language - and it didn't seem to bother Obama until these sermons were made public. Secondly, Obama accepted the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam and even allowed some of Nation of Islam bodyguards on the stage with him at rallys. This group has repeatedly portrayed the white race as inheritantly evil - and have even claimed the white race is the corrupted product/experiment by a wicked black scientist, Dr. Jakub. Also NOI calls for separation from other races.
      I find accepting an endorsement from such a group very disturbing and disgusting to say the least– just as I would find it disgusting if a candidate were to accept an endorsement from a group with white hoods and 3 Ks in their name.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • BillyBob117

      Your comment gives the clear impression that you work from the Regime.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • rftallent

      I agree with your statement and it reminds me that Oprah was criticized because, as a woman, she didn't support Hillary Clinton, but instead supported President Obama (race ?). It is insulting to think that someone would vote for anyone (or not) based on race or gender instead of their qualifications. Are we sheep? Like you, I disagree with some of the things that the President has done, but I disagreed with some of the things that President Bush did, too. I am a white woman in the state of Alabama and I grew up in the Wallace administration. I'm not a racist, and I resent being blamed for what generations before me did. It's important for people to study these events as a part of history and to learn how to move past them, but I hope the children of this generation will find a way to make a new history.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  19. PostHocErgo

    There is an old adage in the Marine Corps, there are no atheists in a foxhole. Once you have that true realization that life hangs by a slender thread and can be snapped with the gentlest of breezes, your perception of everything changes. Life long beliefs can go up in smoke in an instant when you prioritize life, not from day to day or week to week but from the beginning to the end. Hate, resentment, bitterness are just needless baggage that everyone will eventually let go of once they find their own foxhole.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      Well said. Why would you want to live your precious life hating people all the time? Forgiveness, compassion, love... these aren't just themes from the Bible. These are themes from any good religion or any good way of life. I guarantee you the people who take time to reflect on these and attempt to live by them are much happier than skinhead Neo-Nazis, gangstas, nationalist Americans, etc.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Moorhead

      Acknowledging that blacks are not fit to live among whites is not "hate," it's facing reality.

      Even liberals know that the more blacks living in an area, the worse it becomes by virtually any measure.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • johnnyb52

      I do not apologize when I say it all came from God who inspired men to write it all down, which became the bible. Other religions of the world stole these precepts and changed them and twisted them to fit their uninspired books. I probably sound hateful to you right now, but I am not a hateful person, truth sounds that way sometimes. God is love and He has mercy towards those who humble themselves before him believing granting forgiveness by grace through faith in Christ alone.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  20. j.spiller

    I love reading this article. I think we should all use what was said in this article and start forgiving those who might be descendants of racism but are not racist. I think there is so much needless hate in this world and possibly understanding that we are all One people, made by One supernatural being (God), and we all bleed out red. Forgiveness is what we need as a nation and I believe that it is what Jesus was teaching way back in history. Thank you Jesus for your forgiveness in my life and all those who sin against me. Amen

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

      As if we needed more proof that religion is for idiots.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Bruno

      Forgiveness should apply to all issues, not just racial. We all need to be able to forgive before we are free ourselves. Learning to forgive is the beginning for us. Never forget but always forgive.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Udontsay

      One of my father's favorite sayings is "Those who take offense when none is intended are fools, but those who take offense when it IS intended are worse; they are easily manipulated." Why would someone who is a descendant of racism but not racist themselves need to ask for forgiveness? Either you are not admitting your own prejudice or you are easily manipulated into feeling guilty for no reason. Whether you are black, white, latin, middle-eastern, asian, or purpleskinnedailiens from Mars, you will be called a racist at some point. Try to laugh it off and consider the source. If you feel the need to defend yourself then maybe you should take a look a little deeper. Maybe there is something you need to ask forgiveness for. If so, you will feel much better if you do it truthfully, as Wallace did many years ago.

      May 14, 2011 at 12:59 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.