That journey started when one of her sons saw videotape of African -Americans being hosed by water cannons during the Civil Rights movement and asked why his grandfather had never talked about those days. When she didn't have a good answer, she told her son that she felt it was probably going to be up to her, and him, to make things right.

"When you're born into a political family and raised in a political family, that's all you know," Wallace Kennedy said. She told a large audience that when the family left their home in Clayton, Alabama, when she was 11 to move to the governor's mansion in Montgomery, "There was never an inkling of what was to come." She was 13 when he stood in the schoolhouse door and proclaimed "Segregation now, segregation forever."

"It was interesting and it was different (long pause) and it was sad. It was very sad," she said, her voice almost quivering.

Wallace Kennedy said when her high school was integrated in 1966 she wanted to approach the African-American students to tell they were welcome, "Because my politics were really not my father's politics, but I couldn't because I was surrounded by plain-clothes policemen. That was a missed opportunity. I should have done it."

When her mother was elected governor in 1966 she only served 15 months before dying in the governor's mansion with cancer.

After her oldest son left for Iraq, she was determined to start building a legacy of her own. "I just started speaking up, and speaking out and in 2009, I got the opportunity to do so," Wallace Kennedy said. "Stepping away from a painful past was not easy, but it was the right thing to do. I was tired of living in the shadow of the schoolhouse door."

She said she has been inspired through the years by John Lewis and more recently Barack Obama.

"I feel very comfortable today," Wallace Kennedy said.

She is working on a book with her husband that will chronicle the historical politics of the South and their efforts to promote racial healing and justice.