Peggy Wallace Kennedy has a new memoir where she describes what it is like to grow up in the shadow of her father, George Wallace, “the most dangerous racist in America” and former governor of Alabama. For years, Kennedy said she kept the family line. “I felt obligated to defend Daddy’s character and actions,” she told CNN. “I took the official Wallace line: Daddy was a segregationist but not a racist.”
With her memoir (co-written with her husband Justice H. Mark Kennedy), Kennedy says she wants a different legacy for her sons moving forward. In 1996, the Kennedys took their youngest sn Burns to a museum about Martin Luther King Jr. There were photos about the violence against civil rights marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church and her father standing in the schoolhouse doors, attempting to physically block integration.
Kennedy told CNN of this moment:
And he turned and asked me, ‘Why did Paw Paw do these things to people?’ I knew I had to do something for my children that my father never did for me. I said, ‘I don’t know why Paw Paw did those things to people, but I know he was wrong. So maybe it’ll be up to you and me to help make things right.’
At the time I thought to myself, I can use this voice to speak up and speak out about something I’m passionate about. Maybe I can build a legacy for my two sons that’s different than the ones left for me. That’s when I started speaking up.
Kennedy also writes about how she knew early in life that she didn’t agree with the “segregation forever” beliefs of Wallace. But she never saw anything. “I really didn’t have a voice growing up. Nobody asked me my opinion,” she told CNN. “And so when my father stood in the schoolhouse doors, everyone assumed that his politics were mine. My close friends knew that I didn’t agree, but I was just never asked.”
Read the interview from CNN here.