March 2018
Homeplace & Community

Jamie Wallace

Reflecting on Decades of Service to Selma and Alabama


Jamie Wallace holds a photo of himself as an Army private during his days in the military in the 1960s.

March has arrived and Jamie Wallace doesn’t need a reminder because it’s one month he’s not likely to forget.

On March 7, 1965, he was a Selma newspaper reporter covering a proposed, 54-mile civil rights walk to Montgomery to urge then-Gov. George Wallace to ease voter restrictions.

Jamie wasn’t sure what might happen but it didn’t take long to find out as Alabama State Troopers unbuckled gas masks and moved quickly toward the demonstrators.

Seconds later, he was dabbing water on his eyes to wipe away acrid reminders of what had just happened.

He also mentally thanked the Army for having scheduled gas mask training sessions during his military days. He knew just what to do to combat the tears.

Although he’s been away from Selma for many years, Wallace still has a warm place in his heart for the town with its share of ups and downs through the years.

"Selma is an amazing town," he said. "It has risen from the ashes many times in the past."

The first time was the Civil War when Union troops burned most of Selma to the ground in a punitive raid to punish the town for manufacturing weapons of war that claimed many Yankee soldiers.

A century after the Civil War, Selma was hit hard again when Craig Air Force Base was closed in 1977 during cutbacks announced by the Carter administration.

It cost Selma millions of dollars in several ways and Wallace kept tabs on just how much of a jolt it became.

"People forget that Selma’s population dropped by 7,000 people," he said. "You don’t recover easily from things like that."

Just when it seemed Selma was about to bounce back, more pain appeared when hundreds of high-paying jobs were lost when an aircraft-manufacturing plant closed.

Jamie and Patsy Wallace survived a deadly tornado that went through Wilcox County in 2007 by using a storm shelter. One of their neighbors didn’t reach the shelter in time.


Several years later, March 1, 2007, Jamie and his wife Patsy were preparing for lunch when a tornado roared across the Alabama River in Wilcox County and destroyed their house.

A storm shelter saved their lives, but a neighbor wasn’t as fortunate and died in the devastation that day on Sand Island.

Debris from the twister landed atop the storm shelter and it took an hour of pounding from inside to attract their neighbors’ attention, some of whom feared the worst.

Now, as another March dawns, the Wallaces are getting ready for a much happier event – his 82nd birthday.

They are looking forward to spending time with friends and relatives in person, on the phone or via computers.

Those who know and respect the couple count their blessings to have them in their midst.

Wallace is semiretired now, but still works a few days each week as a member of the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission, a 10-county organization that helps the poorest of the poor in the region.

His days as a reporter for the Selma Times Journal were soon elevated to a publisher’s position. He eventually moved on to become president of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce.

After that, he helped Selma become the first city in Alabama to promote tourism within the state’s minority communities. It was a gutsy move, but he never hesitated and made it successful.

Wallace also served 25 years as chairman of the Dallas County Department of Human Resources, was an Alabama Easter Seals officer and spent over 40 years with the West Central Alabama Rehabilitation Center.

As if that wasn’t enough to take up his time, he also was a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame selection committee when it was created by the Alabama Legislature in 1968.

Wallace has never begged off involvement in activities to help the needy. When the call goes out, he’s ready to lend a hand.

Alabama Transportation Director John R. Cooper calls Wallace "a great diplomat for the state," one who spreads good will "wherever he goes."

"Jamie makes people feel comfortable, letting them know they are important," Cooper said. "He’s a good ambassador for Alabama."

Wallace grew up in Dallas and Bibb counties where his dad spent 50 years working for railroads. He recalls how his family’s living quarters were so close to the tracks that "we could reach out and touch the cars as they whizzed by."

That might be stretching things a bit, but he’s never lost his love of trains, old and new.

His real passion, however, was reading newspapers and he couldn’t wait until bundles of the Birmingham Post-Herald were delivered to a country store where he could run over to start reading.

At the University of Alabama, Wallace and David Mathews became close friends. Mathews, who grew up in Grove Hill, would become the university’s youngest president and, later, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under the Ford administration.

Mathews believes Wallace has never received the adulation and plaudits he deserves for a lifetime of being one of Alabama’s leading citizens.

"Far more people need to know how much he has contributed to our state," Mathews said. "I hope the next generation has some good citizens like Jamie. It would be a better world."


Jamie Wallace with three staff members: from left, Patti Gibbs, Evelyn Agee and Ann Alford

Wallace used to volunteer to help cover elections and, with Mike Reynolds by his side, they listed returns from polls throughout Selma.

He enjoyed broadcasting and economic development almost as much as writing, but knew writing would always be his first love.

Wallace isn’t easily rattled and prefers a laid-back lifestyle but late-night trips through the 10 counties he covers can sap anybody’s strength. No bother. He just sees it as a good way to relax.

His dry sense of humor often surprises those more familiar with his professorial-style of communicating.

He gets a kick out of recounting how he helped to "bring the Bear" back to Tuscaloosa.

During his stint at the UA student newspaper, the Crimson White, he wrote an article about the hiring of Frank Rose as UA President.

Taking that as a cue, Wallace would tell friends that, in a round-about way, he played a minor role in enticing Bryant to leave Texas A&M and come back to Tuscaloosa where he had starred on the Crimson Tide football team years before.

"I like to say I had a hand in bringing Coach Bryant to Alabama," he said, tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

His reasoning contained a lot more than wishful-thinking speculation because Bryant would be hired by none-other-than Rose, who was in charge of the university during that time.

During Wallace’s days as an economic specialist, he tended to flash a big smile when it was time to pick the new board of directors.

Asked one day how he always seemed to come up with so many outstanding board members, Wallace would always smile and say, "Because I trained most of ’em."


Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.