Albert Patterson

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Statue in memory of Albert Patterson, on the grounds of the Alabama State Capitol building, Montgomery, Alabama

Albert Patterson (January 27, 1894 – June 18, 1954) was an attorney in Phenix City, Alabama. He was assassinated outside his law office shortly after he won the Democratic nomination for Alabama Attorney General on a platform of reforming the rife corruption and vice in Phenix City.

Personal life[edit]

Patterson was born in the New Site community in Tallapoosa County sometime between 1891 and 1897, depending on what source is used; according to his drivers' license at the time of his death, his date of birth was January 27, 1894,[1] he grew up on a farm with seven siblings, but left Alabama as a teenager to seek a better life. He eventually settled in east Texas, working as a day laborer on farms and oil fields.[1]

While in Texas, Patterson joined the Third Texas Infantry, earning a commission as a Second Lieutenant, he began dating Agnes Benson of Colbert County, Ala. and they were married on July 14, 1917. In July 1918, Patterson deployed to France as an officer with the 36th Infantry Division. While in France, Patterson was seriously wounded near St. Etienne. For his service, France awarded him the Croix de Guerre with silver gilt star.[1]

Patterson spent a lengthy convalescence after being discharged before returning to his native Alabama to attend college, he earned a teacher's certificate from what is now Jacksonville State University in 1921 and served as a high school principal in both Clay County and Coosa County. He completed his bachelor's degree in history from the University of Alabama in 1926, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, he would go on to earn his law degree in just one year from the Cumberland School of Law in Lebanon, Tenn. After opening law practices in Opelika and Alexander City, he would settle in Phenix City in 1933.[1]

Political career[edit]

Patterson began his political career in 1937 as a member of the Phenix City Board of Education. By 1940, he was also chairman of the Russell County Draft Board. In 1946, he was elected to the Alabama state senate, where he served from 1947 to 1951. While in the Senate, he helped introduce several important bills, including the Wallace-Cater Act, which allowed the use of state and municipal bonds to finance industrial plants and the Trade School Act, which formed many of Alabama's trade schools.[1]

In the early 1950s, Patterson became involved with the Russell Betterment Association (RBA), which was formed to combat the rampant vice and corruption occurring in Phenix City and Russell County; that involvement resulted in Patterson's office being set ablaze in 1952.[2] The RBA had been thwarted at electing its candidates at the local level, so it decided to nominate candidates for statewide office. Since Patterson had held a senate seat, he was seen as the perfect candidate for the office of the Attorney General.[1]

He obtained a plurality in the 1954 Democratic primary, staging a runoff in May with Lee "Red" Porter of Gadsden. In the runoff, early election results saw Patterson gain a seemingly insurmountable lead, leading Porter's Phenix City supporters to allegedly buy and steal votes throughout the state in an effort to keep Patterson from victory; the back-and-forth continued until June 10, when the Executive Committee of the Alabama Democratic Party declared Patterson the winner.[1]

Assassination and aftermath[edit]

On the evening of June 18, 1954, Patterson was working in his law office in the Coulter Building in Phenix City; as he left at about 9 p.m., he walked to his car, which was parked in an alley off Fifth Avenue next to the Elite Cafe. An unidentified assailant walked up to him, pushed a gun in his mouth and shot him three times. One cartridge was found wedged in an opening where two or three front teeth had been knocked out. Patterson was well aware that his life was in danger, commenting just one night earlier to a church group, "I have only a 100-to-1 chance of ever being sworn in as attorney general."[3]

Reaction from the state was swift. Within weeks, Gov. Gordon Persons declared martial law in the city, effectively giving the Alabama National Guard the law enforcement duties in the city and county. The state sent special prosecutors from Montgomery to replace the local judiciary.[1]

Within six months, the Phenix City Machine was dismantled. A special grand jury in Birmingham handed down 734 indictments against local law enforcement officers, elected officials and local business owners connected to organized crime. Three officials were specifically indicted for Patterson's murder: Chief Deputy Sheriff Albert Fuller, Circuit Solicitor Arch Ferrell and Attorney General Si Garrett. Of the three, only Fuller was convicted; he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released after 10 years. Fuller died within the same year as his parole; claiming his innocence until his dying day.[4] Ferrell was acquitted and Garrett was never brought to trial, as he was convalescing in a mental institution for most of the year after Patterson's murder.[1]

Patterson's son, John Malcolm Patterson, assumed the Democratic nomination for Attorney General and won, taking office in 1955. In 1958, John was elected Governor, running on a platform of fighting organized crime and public corruption.[1]

Popular history[edit]

A memorial statue of Patterson stands on the grounds of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

"Phenix City" by Edwin Strickland and Gene Wortsman written in 1955 provides an accurate account, from eyewitnesses, of the events of the day. Alan Grady's book When Good Men Do Nothing: The Assassination of Albert Patterson ISBN 0-8173-1141-6 chronicles the events leading to and following the murder. Margaret Anne Barnes' book The Tragedy and Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama chronicles the factual events leading up to the murder of Albert Patterson. Ace Atkins wrote a novelization of the events surrounding Patterson's assassination and the ensuing cleanup of Phenix City, entitled Wicked City.

These events were dramatized in the 1955 biopic film noir The Phenix City Story, directed by Phil Karlson.

See also[edit]


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