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Nobody But the People: The Life and Times of Alabama’s Youngest Governor. By Warren Trest. Montgomery: NewSouth Books, 2008. 496 pp. $32.50. ISBN 978-1-58838-221-4. Patterson for Alabama: The Life and Career of John Patterson. By Gene Howard. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008. 256 pp. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-8173-1605-1. Anyone interested in these biographies of John Patterson is likely to be familiar with the outlines of his life. He was born in Goldville, Alabama, in 1921, and he was twelve when his parents Albert and Agnes moved their three children to Phenix City. At that time Phenix City—located across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Georgia, and the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning—was lawless except to the degree that the gangsters who ran it needed order to maintain their businesses. Their enterprises included gambling, prostitution, drugs, and abortion. Albert Patterson was an attorney who had experienced difficulty starting a practice during the Great Depression in small town Alexander City. In 1940 John enlisted in the Army and graduated from Officer Candidate School. After a brief stint at General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters in London, he sought an active role in combat and was given command of an antitank gun platoon. His unit took part in campaigns in North Africa, Italy, Sicily, Germany, and France, including the pivotal battle of El Guettar. After the war John completed law school at the University of Alabama in 1949. He returned to Phenix City to join his father Review Essay C A R L G R A F T O N THE PARADOXICAL JOHN PATTERSON Carl Grafton is the co-author of two books on Alabama politics (Big Mules and Branchheads: James E. Folsom and Political Power in Alabama, and Political Power in Alabama: The More Things Change . . .) which were published by the University of Georgia Press in 1985 and 1995, respectively. J u l y 2 0 0 8 217 Albert’s law firm. In 1946 his father had won a seat in the state senate with gangster support. In 1950 he ran unsuccessfully for the office of lieutenant governor. As the years passed Albert developed a growing antipathy toward his clients. In 1954 he ran for the Democratic party nomination for the office of state attorney general with the declared purpose of ending crime in Phenix City. Employing vote fraud and spending large sums of money, his underworld opponents vigorously but unsuccessfully opposed his campaign. At that time the Democratic nomination led almost automatically to general election victory, and it would have in this case—but Albert Patterson was murdered before he could take office. Alabama’s state government ignored Phenix City for decades except to the degree that officials profited from it, but they could not disregard the assassination of the man who would have been the state’s top law enforcement officer. Gov. Gordon Persons used the National Guard to close down Phenix City’s vice industry, and then reluctantly declared martial law. The state Democratic Party called a special election to replace Albert Patterson. Public support for his son John was so intense that no one ran against him. He assumed office as attorney general in 1955. At the same time James E. “Big Jim” Folsom took office as governor . As attorney general Patterson restored the rule of law to Phenix City, oversaw the trials of some of his father’s murderers, mounted a relatively successful attack on loan sharks, led almost continuous prosecutions of the Folsom administration over ethical misconduct, and engineered legal action against the NAACP. The combination of enforcement of law and order and effective action against the civil rights movement, together with a generally populist platform, made him the winning candidate for governor in 1958 when he defeated, among others, the wealthy Jimmy Faulkner and the energetic George Wallace. Patterson’s term as governor was notable for his self-destructive support of John F. Kennedy for president and his mishandling of violent attacks on civil rights demonstrators. In addition, he provided politically costly support for much-needed school funding increases T H E...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9961
Print ISSN
0002-4341
Pages
pp. 216-221
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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