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The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter's Journey to Reconciliation

Review

The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter's Journey to Reconciliation

George Wallace, the four-time governor of Alabama, was a controversial figure by any reckoning. His daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, seeks to smooth some of his edges for posterity’s sake, and for our finer understanding of the man, his policies and his actions.

The son of a raging, alcoholic father, Wallace rose to prominence in government by following his own gut and utilizing his penchant for folksy chatter underpinned by a will to achieve power. Failing to win the governorship his first time out, he took up the banner of hardcore racial segregation to win the next time, in 1962. A man who Peggy characterizes as heavily motivated by praise, Wallace constantly sought admiration, both from his voter base of white southern men and from women other than his wife, Lurleen.

"The judgment on Alabama’s fiery leader cannot rest solely on one source, but by creating her perspective, Peggy Wallace Kennedy offers a reasonable opening for re-examination."

Yet Lurleen was so devoted to him (and fearful of the poverty in which he sometimes left her and the children) that to help him get into the governor’s mansion when the law prevented him from serving successive terms, she put herself up for the job. Wallace remarkably won Alabama’s leadership again and again, even after being rippled by an assassin’s bullet while campaigning for the US presidency. While he held sway, black citizens of Alabama were held back, forced down and, in many cases, killed for speaking out.

All this and more is recounted by his daughter, who, in 2009, crossed the storied bridge in Selma holding the hand of African American Congressman John Lewis, a fellow Alabamian and long-time civil rights activist. Peggy makes the case that her father had a period of true repentance in later life, and often spoke of it to her and her husband, co-author Justice H. Mark Kennedy, who took notes of much of what he said. These indicate that Wallace, the man who famously declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” thought himself a moderate regarding segregation, and felt his political opportunism was little different from that of Martin Luther King. Peggy makes the case in Wallace’s defense that his being a segregationist did not make him a racist.

Among efforts at presenting a balanced view, Peggy draws a brief, unflattering parallel between her father’s strategies and those of Donald Trump. She was prompted to gather this personal history by her sons’ questions about their grandfather, who she recalls as a fun-loving and generous parent, though frequently absent.

Doubtless it was painful for Peggy to delve deeply into her own past, as someone whose moral views from early adolescence contrasted with the public policies of her famous father. She still suffers trauma from those conflicted years. Readers will find out more about George Wallace than they ever could have learned otherwise, and will be transported back to the heat, hatred, fear and some notable heroics of the early civil rights era. The judgment on Alabama’s fiery leader cannot rest solely on one source, but by creating her perspective, Peggy Wallace Kennedy offers a reasonable opening for re-examination.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on December 13, 2019

The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter's Journey to Reconciliation
by Peggy Wallace Kennedy with Justice H. Mark Kennedy

  • Publication Date: December 3, 2019
  • Genres: History, Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1635573653
  • ISBN-13: 9781635573657