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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. Joe

    Wallace is to be admired because he moderated and corrected his views as time went on. Similarly, Malcolm X is to be admired because he too moderated and corrected his views as time went on. Both men were racists early in their lives, but grew wiser and more pragmatic and were not racists later on.

    Interestingly, Malcolm X met Martin Luther King once. At the meeting King blasted Malcolm, calling him a racist. King told him calling all white people "devils" was not productive. Reportedly King said, "If we want to get what we want, we're going to need the many good white people out there to help us." Fortunately, it appears Malcolm listened to King.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  2. nupewilliam

    Sounds like the croom family is a fAmily of sell outs... Uncle toms... How can you meet with someone in private who at the time was still in public spewing his hateful ways...sad

    May 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  3. JeremyP

    Well said Apeman....thanks for reinforcing my theory!

    May 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  4. JeremyP

    Hi I am an athiest dufus, but very proud of the marines and like to smoke dope with nothing really intelligent to say! Gotta go...they are taking me back to my padded room!

    May 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  5. joe

    from the 'beer sumit' on oBOWma has used the race card ..only for his political benefit.. but we will fix that... 2012

    May 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  6. dawit

    talk about forgiveness, would anyone here forgive Osama b laden for what he did?

    May 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Forgiveness

    There is nothing more vindicating as forgiveness. Clinging to hate will eat you alive.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  8. Realist

    The blacks may have been able to forgive Wallace, but we wont forgive the blacks for 300 years of r@pe, theft, drugs, murder, draining our resources via welfare, and destroying cities and communities all across this country.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Johnny

      Oh, the sweet, sweet fragrance of plainly spoken truth.

      Testify, brother!

      May 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • MM22

      realist: "The blacks may have been able to forgive Wallace, but we wont forgive the blacks for 300 years of r@pe, theft, drugs, murder, draining our resources via welfare, and destroying cities and communities all across this country."

      You're a troll, but okay.

      If the actions of a handful of blacks - or even "all" modern blacks - is somehow a badge on their race or their characters as a whole, what does that say for the rest of humans, including whites, throughout history?

      Does Hitler's being white reflect somehow on you?

      Does Mao's being asian reflect on Asians?

      How about Stalin, Franco or Mussolini?

      Moron.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Courtney

      Right... because the majority of people who receive welfare TOTALLY ARENT WHITE. give me a break and do some research

      May 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Unrealist

      Awww it must break your little hate-filled heart to see a (half-) black President

      May 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • RACECARD

      @Unrealist; EVERY single time skin color is brought up about Obama, (especially when it's not even the topic of discussion to begin with) it comes from one of his voters/supporters. Who has the REAL race issues?

      May 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  9. Apeman

    That's what I love about these banjo biblethumpers, if you are against them, you are vile, disgusting and will burn in hell forver (whatever that means) but if you are one of them, you can do what ever you want and then just say forgive me and they kiss your feet. I don't have to mention the long list of them from warped so called preachers to the GOP sewage spewing out of their ranks in this decade

    May 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  10. sanforce

    Politicians will always play the game to garner the votes. It sounds like Wallace successfully played the race card during a volatile, racially influenced election.

    I'm glad that I live in a time where these lines have blurred, even though we obviously still need more time and work to blur even more.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  11. Skytag and Chaos1946 are pu$$ies

    Your white guilt did not work on me today, CNN. Perhaps tomorrow. Lord knows you're going to try.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  12. BEK

    What is wrong with people? First of all, what on earth does this have to do with Osama bin Laden. Go to a different thread if you want to talk/write about that. Second, as a white woman, I find it appalling when white people whine about minorities being racist. You have no clue about how much harm racism has caused and continues to cause. You can only see as far as your own noses.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Skytag and Chaos1946 are pu$$ies

      I find it appalling when somebody condones racism from anybody of any color. What makes you think it's okay for one race and not another?

      May 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • wowie

      i agree with you BEK. it's funny how hate still rears its ugly head even in the midst of a story written to promote healing compassion and understanding. out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. goes to show that this country still has a long way to go.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • MM22

      bek: "I find it appalling when white people whine about minorities being racist. You have no clue about how much harm racism has caused and continues to cause."

      Ah, right. So whites were "more" racist in the last two centuries, therefore racism by minorities is acceptable.

      Brilliant standard.

      "You have no clue about how much harm racism has caused and continues to cause."

      Interesting how you shoot yourself in the foot. If racism causes harm, why are you (apparently) tolerant of non-white racism?

      May 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  13. Joshua

    Beautiful story on forgiveness. I like the reference to the apostle Paul seeing the change of heart. True conversion, PTL forgiveness its powerful and we are commanded to forgive or the Lord will not forgive us. It breaks down walls of bitterness and promotes healing. God bless you.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • gingersrule1

      Forgiveness was invented so that people who have done bad things can keep doing them or get away with it.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  14. John

    I have light pigmented skin, and I absolutely will refuse to speak with racists. I know too many hard working people with dark pigmented skin. Only shallow people with judge another based on one phenotype characteristic instead of the person as a whole.

    This man is only sorry because being a racist is not acceptable now. If the civil rights moment was not as successful I would bet he would be spewing his racist trash talk to this very day.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • chris

      you're living in the past john. this is a new era. time to move on.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Johnny

      Racial phenotypes extend far beyond skin color.

      I have no problem with the color of blacks' skin. It's the collective content of their character that I have issues with.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • MM22

      johnny: "It's the collective content of [black's] character[s] that I have issues with."

      Racism has nothing to do with attaching importance to a person's skin color, it has to do with looking down on a race or ethnicity as if they were somehow inferior. Hence, your statement that you don't have an issue with "black's skin color" you only have an issue with characters of "blacks" as a whole is racist.

      You've picked out and maligned an entire people based on their race.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Your hatred will consume you

      You know he has been dead for 10 years, right?

      May 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Hold on, MM22! ......I came here to this country from Europe, where I was taught that racism is wrong, and always viewed people from all races , even social status equal, that is, no better or no worse then myself. When I came to this country I knew of racial problems it had in the past. Because of my convictions, I was equally kind and considerate to all, at my work and in private life.
      But it didn't take me long to realize that it is I who was hated and despised by Blacks, because of MY skin color because I am white. So , I don't buy this junk from those who whine racism, and blame all their life's problems on their color.
      I know that there are sorry people of both races, but I have seen so much right down sorriness in Blacks att-it-udes and lifestyles, just to ignore it and smooth it over..... Therefore I agree with Johnny in what he said....
      And this is no racism, or else, I would oppose mixed marriages, but I don't , if is for right reasons, because the God that I know only sees two "races": one washed in the blood of the Lamb, and one still in their own sin and corruption!
      But this thing with holding to grudges from long ago has got to stop! Or else this country will be destroyed, from within, without anyone invading it!

      """"""""""""`
      John, I'll tell you this one thing... The man who repents of his ways is much better off then the one who in his mind thinking he has right to hold on to his hate, goes to eternity without forgiveness. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not those who think they need no healing and cleansing of their sins! Remember this in your life, and you'll find freedom you never knew, which ony Christ gives to those who humble themselves and call on Hi name!

      May 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  15. dawit

    how many of you do forgive Osama b laded for what he did to innocent Americans?

    May 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • TazMage

      He never asked....unlike the person mentioned in this article..

      I guess reading the COMPLETE article is beyond most of you kneejerk haters...

      May 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Griz

      Wallace asked for forgiveness. Osama did not. You don't see the difference?

      May 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  16. Ben thare

    So, a person can get away with spewing hatred, fooling others about apologies, and it's all okay? Hmm.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • chris

      it's called forgiveness. if people stop fomenting hatred and let history be history maybe this country would be a better place.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  17. Rita

    Perhaps someday we can get an apology from CNN and all their race-baiting, white guilt, so-called journalists (Soledad, Granderson, Roland Martin, Ruben Navarrette...ect...) for their racist ways!

    May 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • chris

      amen. CNN is clearly too far to the left to report accurate news.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  18. Jay In Florida

    If the year was 1978, why is this news today?

    May 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Drew

      I'd say there is a book or a movie involved.. the reason for most things on tv or certain magazines today outside of current news stories. The PR firms determine what is in the media outside of breaking news... This story though is a good one just on it's own merit.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Skytag and Chaos1946 are pu$$ies

      Because CNN couldn't find any current event stories to keep racial divide alive.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  19. T

    No. This isnt cute. African Americans are suffering from a massive case of stockholm syndrome. The only reason there is so much forgiveness is b/c there is no way to give that b@$tard the true justice he deserves. Why is it ok to forgive the mass enslavement, oppression, and murder of millions, but not the thousands at the hands of Osama bin Laden

    May 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • TazMage

      I don't remember Osama Bin Laden ever asking for forgiveness...

      May 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • T

      & if he did ask for forgiveness would u forgive him? Do u think he Should he get off w/o even a fine or jail time like so many white racists did?

      May 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • JasonB

      This is a story about the true meaning of Christianity. The fundamental message of Christianity is that no one, not even the most evil among us, is beyond redemption if we are truly repentant for our actions and willing to be better people going forward. No one. And if Osama bin Laden was truly sorry and seeking forgiveness, then that would be the ultimate test of a Christian person's devotion to their faith. That's what makes following this religion difficult. It's easy to pick and choose which aspects you want to follow, but this principle is a fundamental aspect of the teachings of Jesus.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • SupremeAmerican

      Extremely well said Jason.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • goldengreyce

      I completely understand. After hundred of years of evil, blacks are expected to forgive and be happy. Some say that Affirmative Action and other policies are meant to balance the centuries of wrong-doing, but last time I checked, ALL minorities benefit from Affirmative Action, so clearly its not meant to redress Slavery, etc.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Joe

    Great story.. I just wish the democrats could learn from this man and stop always trying to play the race card and using race baiting tactics. Doing so just creates more racial tensions. This country has come so far in the past 30 years yet too many people still try to divide for the sole purpose of political gain. That is sad.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • chris

      it's hard for all the minions when the teleprompter in chief throws the race card.

      May 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • mike

      so you mean scoring political points like you just did ?

      May 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Emmm

      Nice generalization..

      May 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Lou

      Joe,

      As soon as you said "all democrats" you lost all credibility. All democrats never do anything. While some Democrats may be accused of anything, as soon as you say"all" you are by definition wrong. Less polarization and more searching for common ground will take us a long way.

      Regards, Lou

      May 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • SupremeAmerican

      Fun time is now.
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjW8SWuyuvs&w=640&h=390]

      May 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Qev

      @Chris Please provide proof of even one, single instance of "the teleprompter in chief" "throwing" the race card...otherwise, your full of s#1t...what's that smell??

      May 14, 2011 at 1:57 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.