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. Kulturystyka

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    July 11, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  2. Jungle Shooter - Bubble Shooter - Play Bubble Shooter Games

    This is an extraordinary share. Thanks for this writing.

    January 25, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  3. JayceeC.


    Hi there, I am an Irish student of American history. I am writing my final year project/dissertation on George Wallace. Is there anyone here that is old enough to remember him? If so, what is, or was your general opinion of him, both as a man and as a governor? How is he viewed in American history by Americans, in particular Southerners? Is his history taught in schools and if so, is he portrayed in a positive or negative way? Any genuine help would be greatly appreciated.x

    November 21, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Corey

      He was an interesting politician, more-so revered by Southerners than Americans in general. His racial antics are most remembered of him, although he softened up in later years. Prior to his death he, once again, begged forgiveness. His political career and personal life was that of an unusual metamorphosis–racist turned human. He was fluid with the times which made some doubt his sincerity. I met him once when I was 9.

      December 27, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  4. JayceeC.

    Hi there, I am an Irish student of American history. I am writing my final year project/dissertation on George Wallace. Is there anyone here that is old enough to remember him? If so, what is, or was your general opinion of him, both as a man and as a governor? How is he viewed in American history by Americans, in particular Southerners? Is his history taught in schools and if so, is he portrayed in a positive or negative way? Any genuine help would be greatly appreciated.x

    November 21, 2011 at 7:02 am |
  5. Muhammad

    Forgive Osama bin laden and let Islam come to America. NONE IS GOD EXCEPT ALLAH.

    May 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      You, poor soul! .....haven't you seen what Islam has done to it's own people? And you want the rest of us to be put in submission to it?
      As for allah being God.... Please, carefully examine the things I will try to explain to you here... This is not assault at you, but words written to show you something!
      Friend, you need to understand that there is not, nor can it ever be, God apart from Jesus Christ. He came to this world to declare and explain the Father. He is the Lamb of God who came to give His life for all mankind, so that we may live, and all those who come to Him, putting their faith in Him are accepted to the Father, because when HE sees them, HE sees the righteousness of His son in them, and to them He gives the gift of eternal life. Without Him no man can come to the Father, never , ever!
      Your religion is man's effort to please God. But, no man in himself can please God, because our own righteousness , even our best attempts, and intentions can not atone for our own sins. But HE, the God who created us, and loved us so much in spite of our fall and disobedience, has provided His righteousness for us in the PERSON of Jesus Christ, that those who come to God through Him, are covered, not by their own righteousness but that of Christ, His Son whom He sent to redeem the fallen human race... Because the blood of the bulls and goats could cleanse no man of his sin, but the blood of Christ , who is the spotless, sinless Lamb of God can wash the worst sinner and present him clean before the Holy God, who says that without holiness no man shall see God.... But you have no covering for your sins.

      The Jesus Christ described in quran, and what it teaches about Him, is NOT the real Christ. The spirit of Islam is NOT of the Spirit of God, nor does it testify tho the Truth. It's (quran's) message is hollow, and it is void of Life of the Spirit of God. I am not saying this to attack, nor being mean spirited, but I am saying this with the discernment of the Spirit of God : quran is no other then satanic attempt to discredit the person of Jesus Christ, who is God come in the flesh, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the very Word of God who became flesh, and He of whom the prophets of old, prompted by the Holy Spirit of God foretold, even centuries before His birth.

      Satan is the originator of all false religions, and you can take every one of them individually, and they, every one, to the last of them, will do one thing exclusively, without exception: They will attempt to discredit, drag down and attack the PERSON of Jesus Christ, and WHO HE IS. Here is the bottom line: Any spirit that discredits Jesus Christ, and presents Him in the false light, saying :
      – He is not God in the flesh, and waters down the completeness of His sacrifice on that cross, the cleansing power of the blood He shed, or denies the reality of His resurection from the dead and His ascension tho the Father, is NOT the Spirit of Truth!
      And that's the case with the Islamic quran. It is not of God and it's not of His Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth.

      God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of Truth are ONE. That's what we call The HOLY TRINITY, and you Muslims, as well as many others, even some heretic Christian sects, totally misunderstand it, saying we worship 3 persons.... But in reality it is ONE, because those three are ONE, and can not exist apart..
      It's simply this way:
      -God – the Father,
      -God – the Son, the Word of God, who became the Lamb of God who was sent to the world to redeem mankind,
      – God – the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth..Those Three persons are the make up of God.
      I hope that you will take my post as I meant it, and not to be offended by it. I've seen others here who write often, I believethey do it in hope that some of people would read and be attracted to quran. But there is NO LIFE in quran to be attracted to... because the Spirit of God gives LIFE.
      So , although you may mean well, the people who may be even seeking are so burdened down with heavy yoke of weight of their own sins they need to be set free from, that they have no need of yoke of another false religion....

      Peace to you!

      May 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • DM

      @Prism 1234 How is it God is a HE in any religion?
      And, do you think the use of the phrase "you Muslims" is appropriate for a non-racist Christian? My my.

      July 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  6. Tiffany

    Forgiveness brings peace. Let's go of anger/hatred. God IS the ultimate judge and will approriately punish us to fit our sins- justly.

    Bottom line, if you do not forgive those who have tresspassed against you, "YOUR" sins will not be forgiven. As unfair as it is, it's what Jesus taught.

    I forgive you.

    May 14, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  7. hmmmm

    I find it funny everytime I read something like this that people like the majority of commenters I havr read will become so full of hatred like this. Christian or not, black or not, white or not, donkey or elephant, we are all simple humans. We are not Gods. The hatred I see spewed here is the hatred that keeps this nation from being as great as it could be.

    If you want to se real change, be the real change and begin within yourself. Forgiveness is not just for others. We must often forgive ourselves as well. We will never move forward as a nation until we are a nation united. Simple truth

    May 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  8. mexican

    So know its our turn

    May 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  9. Name*lionel

    Not bad story

    May 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  10. David Fordham

    I believe there is only one requirement to grant forgiveness... It should be asked for sincerely.

    May 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  11. Haime52

    @ Racecard – I hope you aren't really as racist as you come across!

    As for Goerge Wallace, it is God's business, now. We can forgive, in our hearts, but only God is his judge.

    Would that racism, prejudice, bigotry and hate would go the way of the T-Rex!

    May 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  12. Jeremy

    Thanks Ken...then pass the word so young men arn't killing young other men and each other and innocent bystanders in Milwaukee and most every other urban city.

    May 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  13. Ken

    No one has to ask for forgiveness. You are to be proactive in giving it. LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. We Black, African-Americans have no choice but to love the worst that White American has to offer. It is why we survived racism, slavery and whatever tactic that has been thrown our way.

    May 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm |

      And now your generation, the one least affected negatively and benefits most positively from racism, lives for giving it back to "the man"!

      May 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Lindsay

      Hey "racecard" – way to turn a beautiful and positive comment from ken into something negative. You are disgusting. I wish we had more people like Ken around! 🙂

      May 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Ken, I sense that your statemnet is NOT wat it seems to be... Those without discernment fall for it!

      May 16, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  14. Phil McSorley

    DEMOCRATS TO AFRICAN AMERICANS: You cannot do anything without Government Assistance

    Conservatives to African Americans: You are endowed by the Creator and have unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    May 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  15. Jeremy

    Its not that us Christians want you heathens and pagans go to hell, but simply commenting and providing opinions on your choice to do so. The Bible told me so....and I'm buying!

    May 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      The bible says that the bible says that the bible says...

      quacks like a circle, is a circle.

      May 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  16. JeremyP

    Wallace kissed a black baby during his election run! What does that tell you?

    May 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • DM

      I don't think I can put exaclty what I feel that tells me on here. Suffice to say some men will do anything to gain power.

      July 21, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  17. Phil McSorley

    George Wallace, Robert Byrd, Barack Obama ETC.... ALL DEMOCRATS, ALL RACISTS and Hate mongers. The Democratic Party up until just a few years ago had a KKK member in their ranks. They supported him, gave him cover, comfort, and money. YES, that would be Senator Byrd from West Virginia. Obama stayed in Rev. Wrights "church" for 20 years. Obama had the flags flown at half staff for Byrd. The hypocracy from the Democratic Party is shocking and frightening! we really need CHANGE in 2012.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Phil

      You are McSorley mistaken sir.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |

      Wrong!!!!! lol

      robert byrd was a conservative democrat most southern democrats at the time of the solid south were conservative...I bet you had no problem with senator NO AKA JESSE HELMS being knowledge and celebrated as a patriot huh..Helms was a known racist even in the 90's up to george bush 1

      there were and are lots of people who were ex klansmen, EX is the word...and most black people were not killed by klansmen but regular white folk..

      conservative democrats are no more..they exist in states like WV, oh yeah individual states elect their senators so go do some research and learn some history because you need it...

      and blasting america is not racist lol..and thats what rev wright did

      November 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  18. volsocal

    Ironically, if Wallace had not been shot (the shooter, Arthur Bremer, hated the Republicans), he would have split the Republican vote and Humphry would have defeated Nixon in 1968.

    May 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  19. JeremyP

    Bet he makes a mean barbeque!

    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.