BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System unanimously approved the renaming of the former George C. Wallace Building on the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus.
The vote was Feb. 5, 2021.
The facility is now called the Physical Education Building.
The decision followed a unanimous recommendation by a working group charged with reviewing named buildings on UA System campuses relative to Shared Values that include integrity, leadership, accountability, diversity, inclusion and respect.
“This is simply the right thing to do,” said Trustee Judge John England Jr., who represents the Board workgroup. “The UA System, the Board of Trustees, our working group and our campuses recognize Governor Wallace’s complex legacy, including the well-known acceptance of his apology by civil rights icon John Lewis. That said, his stated regret late in life did not erase the effects of the divisiveness that continue to haunt the conscience and reputation of our state.”
In his presentation to the Board, England cited the reaction of Peggy Wallace Kennedy, the daughter of George Wallace, who had shared a comment about the Board’s pending action.
“I, along with my husband Mark, have confidence in the Board’s decision to rename the UAB Physical Education Building,” she said. “It is important to the university to always seek positive and meaningful change for the betterment of students, faculty and the community.”
In June 2020, then-President Pro Tem Ronald Gray announced formation of the working group to review and study the names of buildings at UA, UAB and UAH. Members include England as chair, Barbara Humphrey, Vanessa Leonard, Harris Morrissette, Scott Phelps and Stan Starnes.
UA System Chancellor Finis St. John said, “Researching the contributions and longstanding impact of individuals whose names are on our campus buildings is directly in keeping with our commitment to champion diversity, equity and inclusion and to fulfill the core principles that guide our future. The Board’s working group has taken on this complex charge with thoughtful consideration and in-depth research.”
George Wallace was the 45th governor of Alabama. In 1972, he ran for president of the United States and, while campaigning in Laurel, Maryland, was shot in an assassination attempt, which left him paralyzed. Wallace underwent extensive physical therapy at the Spain Rehabilitation Center, a part of the UAB Health System. Since the then-new physical education building was closely connected to the Spain Rehabilitation Center, and in recognition of Wallace’s “substantial support, interest, and contributions to the University of Alabama in Birmingham,” the Board of Trustees named the physical education building on the Birmingham campus the “George C. Wallace Building” at its meeting on July 14, 1975.
Statement by George Wallace Jr. on decision to rename building:
”When my mother was being treated at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Hospital for the cancer that would ultimately take her life in 1968, my parents often lamented that Alabamians had to travel so far to seek quality treatment. Their conversations more than 50 years ago served as the genesis for the world-class cancer treatment and research being conducted at UAB today.
Following my mother’s death, millions of dollars were raised through the Lurleen Wallace Courage Crusade, and its proceeds funded the construction and development of the Lurleen Wallace Tumor Institute on the UAB campus.
Likewise, upon leaving office in 1978, my father utilized his relationships with President Jimmy Carter, noted industrialists, and others to raise millions in funding for UAB, its programs, and its expansion. He was passionate about ensuring that Alabama would have a world class research, treatment and educational facility in UAB, and his dream became a reality.
Former UAB Presidents Scotty McCallum and Richardson Hill often told me about his dedication to the university and the great value of his work on its behalf.
The basis upon which the university’s board made its decision reflects only one part of my father’s life journey.
Realizing mistakes he had made in the past, my father devoted decades of his life toward promoting understanding, healing, brotherhood, and a recognition of our common humanity.
Many see him only as a leader of the Old South, but, for most of his public life, he was an equally fervent leader of the New South who encouraged his supporters to embrace change, leave past customs behind, and unite together as Alabamians. I have always felt, and always will, that his journey should serve as an inspiration to all of us, and his example of genuine change should be uplifted not denigrated.
The action by the UA board of trustees offers solid evidence that even a deeply conservative state like Alabama is not immune to the dangers of the present-day ‘cancel culture’ and its efforts to view complex history and individuals in the most simplistic, one-dimensional terms.
The UAB campus that stands today was built largely through the efforts and vision of Gov. George Wallace, and no amount of sign-changing on building edifices can erase that irrefutable fact.
Perhaps it would be proper for the board to consider passing an additional resolution recognizing my father’s role in making UAB a world-renowned institution and offering him its thanks.”