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Alabama Governors

Lurleen Burns Wallace


photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Lurleen Wallace

 

1967-1968

 

Lurleen Burns Wallace was born on September 19, 1926, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Henry and Estelle Burroughs Burns. She worked in a Tuscaloosa dime store where she met George C. Wallace. Sixteen-year-old Lurleen married George on May 22, 1943, and devoted herself to being a housewife and mother over the next twenty years. When her husband was elected governor in 1963, she assumed the duties of first lady. Mrs. Wallace opened the first floor of the governor's mansion to tourists seven days a week and refused to serve alcoholic beverages at executive mansion functions.

 

In 1966, after failing to get the legislature to amend the constitution to allow governors to serve consecutive terms, George announced the candidacy of his wife Lurleen for governor. The couple admitted frankly that if Lurleen was elected, George would continue to make the administrative policies and decisions. Mrs. Wallace won the May Democratic primary with 54 percent of the vote which assured her election in November.

 

Lurleen was inaugurated on January 16, 1967, and refused to have the customary inaugural ball out of respect to Alabamians serving in Vietnam. Although she continued to carry out George's policies regarding segregation, Mrs. Wallace did not remain in her husband's shadow completely. She initiated a few programs of her own. Most notable was her successful campaign to increase funding for the state's mental hospitals.

 

The day after her inauguration, Governor Wallace issued an executive order to the state treasurer requiring that state funds be deposited only in banks that would pay 2 percent annual interest. This order resulted in a court case that was resolved when Lurleen agreed to obtain the change legislatively. A bill requiring banks to pay interest on state deposits was signed into law in June 1967. During her administration, a $160 million road bond bill was also passed, as was a program to develop Alabama's parks and historic sites.

 

In March 1967, a federal court ordered that Alabama's public schools must begin desegregation that fall. Lurleen responded with a televised speech to the state legislature on March 31. In that speech she asked the legislature for the power to seize all state schools and place them under police power. Although clearly a policy from George, the speech was delivered by Mrs. Wallace with "force and faultless execution." (Stewart, p. 206). Lurleen, Governor Lester Maddox of Georgia and Governor Paul Johnson of Mississippi called a meeting of twelve southern governors to draft a plan to fight the court order. In addition to the meeting's organizers only one other southern governor attended, Governor John McKeithen of Louisiana. McKeithen and Maddox, however, stated they would not disobey the court order. The hand of her husband was again displayed in May when Lurleen recommended that state funds be withheld from Tuskegee Institute. Mrs. Wallace also opposed an Office of Economic Opportunity antipoverty grant to establish a farm cooperative for blacks in Lowndes County.

 

In June 1967 Mrs. Wallace was hospitalized in Houston, Texas, where doctors discovered the cancer for which she had been treated in 1966 had returned. Over the next few months she courageously endured numerous operations and radiation treatment. Her last public appearance was at the Blue-Gray football game in January 1968 with her husband. Mrs. Wallace died in her sleep on May 7, 1968. In addition to George, she was survived by their four children: Bobbi Jo Parsons, Peggy Sue, George, Jr., and Janie Lee. Lieutenant Governor Albert P. Brewer assumed the governorship at her death.

 

Other Wallace pages:

Governors George C. and Lurleen B. Wallace Collection

Wallace, George C., 1963 inaugural address

Wallace, Governor George C., Schoolhouse door speech

Wallace, Governor Lurleen Burns: "From Childhood to Alabama Governor"