In 1963, when the Civil Rights movement was almost defeated in Albany. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, invited Dr. Martin Luther King to Birmingham to lead the campaign to desegregate through mass demonstrations. Dr. King was assured that there would be a win in Birmingham. "There were times when I actually sat just a few feet away from Dr. King while he was speaking. We knew the man not the myth," Wallace stated.
The community that Wallace grew up in was home to the churches that hosted some of the most active Civil Rights speeches and streets that held massive demonstrations. "As children we were oblivious to what was really going on around us," Wallace says. "I grew up in a middle class family. My parents shielded us for a long time from what was happening."
On the morning of September 15 of that year, Wallace was going to meet his good friend 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley. He was on his way to the 16th Street Baptist Church at approximately 10:20 a.m. when he saw and heard an explosion coming from the direction of the church. "I started running. When I got to the corner I saw a huge hole in the side of the church building. There was smoke and people streaming from the building. I went in through the hole and didn't realize the the debris I was walking on actually was covering my friends bodies," Wallace recalls. "Within five minutes the police had blocked off the area surrounding the church. I realized I had left my little sister back at our church, the thought of another bomb very much on my mind." He said that later that evening Cynthia's father called with the horrible news. "I remember Cynthia was a pretty petite young lady. We were very close. This is something I have had to carry all these years. One funeral was held for three of the girls, I was a pallbearer. Dr. King gave a very moving eulogy at that funeral."
The 16th Street Church bombing claimed the lives of four of Wallace's friends and neighbors, Denise McNair 11, Addie Mae Collins 14, Carole Robertson 14 and Cynthia. The four girls had been attending Sunday school classes at the church. Twenty-two other people were also injured in the blast. Witnesses reported seeing a white man getting out of a car and placing a box under the steps of the church just before the explosion. Klu Klux Klan member Robert Chambliss was identified as the man who planted the bomb. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred dollar fine and six month jail sentence for the dynamite possession. He would later be be convicted of the murders in 1977 along with three other men.
The explosion increased the anger and tension, which was already high in Birmingham mostly because of the school integration that occurred just days earlier. As the news story about the four girls reached the national and international press, many felt they had not taken the Civil rights struggle serious enough. Wallace said it was around this time that the young people were brought in to help with the demonstrations. "The Civil Rights movement would have died if it had not been for the children," Wallace stated. "The movement initially found it hard to recruit supporters, with black citizens being threatened with jail or losing their jobs. So the children were recruited."
Thousands of black children poured into the streets of Birmingham each day. Police used school buses to arrest hundreds of them each day. When jail space became scarce, dogs and fire hoses were used to disperse the crowds. Images of vicious dogs and police brutality on children emblazoned front pages and television screens around the world. President John F. Kennedy lobbied Birmingham's white business community to reach an agreement to desegragate. Local white business leaders consented to desegregate public facilities, but the details of the accord mattered less than the symbolic triumph. Kennedy pledged to preserve this mediated halt to "a spectacle which was seriously damaging the reputation of both Birmingham and the country."
"As a participant and survivor of the Civil Rights movement, I understand the important role that education plays in the upward mobility and achievement for all people. Through all of the demonstrations and marches the adults of that time taught us many life lessons," Wallace said. "We were taught a strong work ethic and a respect for authority was instilled in us. It was an amazing time not only in our nation's history, but in our our individual lives."
Wallace grew up in a family of educators and a fourth generation college graduate. His mother was a teacher and had grandparents who were also in education. His father worked as a pullman porter for the railroad, which was a very prestigious job for a black man at that time. Wallace is a graduate of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama; the University of Alabama in Birmingham; and the University of New Orleans. He also studied at Auburn University, Southern University, Sacramento State University, as well as Louisiana State University. "I have used my educational opportunities and achievements to instill in a multitude of students a love for education." The span of his career is more than 30 years in education. He has served as Principal, Assistant Principal, Site Administrator, Administrative Assistant, Athletic Director, Assistant Athletic Director, Technology Coordinator, Social Studies Department Chairperson, Boys' Head Basketball Coach; Girls' Head Volleyball Coach, Football Offensive Coordinator, Assistant Baseball Coach, Cross-Country Track Coach and Head Golf Coach.
Wallace served in the United States Army. He is the father of three children and is married to Allison Augustus Wallace. After working in several different states and in different areas of education, he returned to the south when his parents became ill.
He came to Louisiana when he took the job at Southern University in Baton Rouge. "I fell in love with Southern. I love Louisiana and wanted to stay," Wallace stated. Now Wallace finds himself as the new Principal at Independence High. Wallace feels that during his time as a professional educator that he has had both the opportunity and the responsibility to serve as a positive role model and set high attainable academic standards for his students. This has resulted in the vast majority of them becoming highly productive members of society. "I feel that my teachers also have an opportunity, a responsibility, and a blessing to play the same role in the lives of our students, serving as role models and facilitating the continuation of their learning process. To achieve this, it is my belief that an educator must expect high achievement of his/her students and then work to instill self-efficacy for their achievement, as well as a love for their successes in the learning process," Wallace says.
He would like to leave his students with this thought, "It is all about choices. We are all going to make bad choices, but you have to make more positive than negative choices to be successful. You have the power to chose, but if you continue to make bad choices you give up that choice and give it to institutions to make choices for you."