I bet you’ve never heard of Albert Patterson. But you should have. Because it turns out he's a hero—one of Alabama's best.
He ran for Attorney General in the 1950s on a platform of cleaning up corruption in Phenix City.
Patterson was like many young men of the time. He entered the military. And as second lieutenant in the 36th Division, he earned the Croix de Guerre given by France. The Croix de Guerre (French: "War Cross") was a French military decoration created in 1915 and 1939 to reward feats of bravery, either by individuals or groups, during the two World Wars. That award for Patterson, for feats of bravery, was a harbinger of things to come. And should we ever deal with our issues, it could be one for us, too.
For example, we talk a lot about corruption in Alabama. And how we'd like to get rid of her.
Except she’s practically a member of the family and secretly we like fighting with her. Because it makes us feel better about ourselves. And we win things, like public office, when we promise to fight against corruption. And we shake our fists, just so.
And then, you meet a GOAT, like Albert Patterson. And then you ask yourself: what are we actually willing to do to destroy corruption?
Or are we simply giving her lip service because secretly we’re cowards?
Albert Patterson was serious about it. Even as he faced organized crime, he stood tall. He kept his word.
So why won’t we?
Because corruption in Alabama, in 1950's Phenix City, was a stink that you couldn't shake. It was vile and pervasive. Not much different from today.
But do you know what was?
Albert Patterson didn't blink. He understood the assignment.
From the incredible book by Alan Grady, When Good Men Do Nothing;
Phenix City, Alabama, was out of control in 1954. Although gambling and prostitution was illegal throughout the state, these very attractions drew thousands to the east Alabama town, primarily U.S. Army trainees who made the short hop across the Chattahoochee River from Fort Benning, Georgia. In Phenix City: The Wickedest City in America, Edwin Strickland and Gene Wortsman described the town as "an unending series of night clubs, honky tonks, clip joints, B-girl bars, whorehouses, and gambling casinos. Every highway leading into the city was lined with the institutions, and they were scattered throughout the residential districts. You could climb a tall tree, spit in any direction, and where the wind wafted the splutter, there you would find organized crime, corruption, sex and human depravity." ³ While some laughed at the dramatic description, no one doubted its accuracy by the time the book was published in March 1955.
Though I read the book many years ago, the idea that Phenix City's debauchery collided with one man, Albert Patterson's audacity and his strong will to do what was right, stuck with me like glue.
Albert was an average person. Given an average life. And yet, he did extraordinary things.
He'd been a school board member and then board president.
He served time in the Senate, and then he ran for Attorney General on the platform mentioned above, of cleaning up corruption. He stared his community down, one littered with the worst kind of illegal activities.
And he won, even though he lost his life.
Assassinated outside his office. A gun shoved in his mouth.
But he knew this was a possibility.
Days before his murder, it is rumored that Patterson told a church group that if he won, he faced a slim chance of ever being sworn in as Alabama’s Attorney General.
You can understand why he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. But here's what he accomplished, even in death.
Thanks to their efforts, the organized crime syndicate running Phenix City was dismantled entirely within six months. A special grand jury brought 734 indictments, including charges against many law enforcement officers, local business owners connected to organized crime, and elected officials.
Courage begets courage.
And how tragic but encouraging is that?
Does that remind you of our country?
Does that remind you of our state?
Does that remind you of our communities?
Does that motivate you to look for opportunities to do the same?
Or to follow through on what you've thought about but haven't done?
And don't worry. I think many of us feel that way. We want to stand. But what would happen?
And then we look at Albert Patterson. A man awarded the Croix de Guerre, for feats of bravery.
A man who knew how deep his hot water was.
But he did it.
He took on the corrupt and the corrupted, and he succeeded. So did Phenix City and her residents.
While we can't give out the Croix de Guerre, we can participate in feats of bravery. We can stare down and tangle with what's wrong. We can bravely do what’s right. Right now.
Here’s the question. Are we up for this? Are we willing to rise to our moment of truth?
So that someday it may be said that the good men and women of Alabama DID something?
Amie Beth Shaver is a speaker, writer and media commentator. Her column appears every Wednesday in 1819 News. Shaver served on the Alabama GOP State Executive Committee, was a candidate for State House District 43 and spokeswoman for Allied Women. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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