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Thu, 12.19.2019

John Patterson, Southern Politician born

*John Patterson was born on this date in 1921.  He was a white-American politician and lawyer.  

John Malcolm Patterson was born in Goldville in Tallapoosa County in east-central Alabama. His father was attorney Albert Patterson. He joined the United States Army in 1939 and served in the North African, Sicilian, Italian, Southern France, and German campaigns of World War II. In 1945, he left the Army as a major and obtained an LL.B. degree from the University of Alabama School of Law. He was recalled to active duty in the Army from 1951 to 1953 in the Korean War. After his military service, he joined his father's law practice, In 1954.

Patterson's father ran for state attorney general in the state's Democratic primary on a platform promising to eliminate crime in the mob-controlled town of Phenix City and the state. At the time, Alabama was a de facto one-party state dominated by the Democrats, and the Democratic nominee was all but assured of election. Albert Patterson was fatally shot in Phenix City less than two weeks after winning the Democratic nomination on June 18, 1954. As expected, John Patterson replaced his father on the ballot and won the general election handily.  

Patterson became known for his actions in opposition to civil rights. Following the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered an end to racial segregation in public schools, Patterson used existing state law to frustrate and oppose attempts by Blacks to enforce court decisions against segregation. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) failed to register as an out-of-state organization, he used this technicality to ban it from operating in the state.  Patterson instituted legal action to defeat boycotts by Tuskegee blacks against white businesses who served one term as the 44th Governor of Alabama from 1959 to 1963.

A staunch segregationist, he was his state's attorney general from 1955 to 1959. Patterson, with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, won the Governorship of Alabama in 1958.  His turbulent tenure as governor was roiled by numerous civil rights protests and a long-running extramarital affair with Tina Sawyer, a mother-of-two who would eventually become his third wife.   

From the late 1970s through the 1980s, Patterson taught American government at Troy State University. During part of this time, George Wallace, Jr. was an administrator at the school. During the same time, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty headed the education department.  In 1984, Patterson was appointed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, where he remained until his retirement in 1997.  In 2003, Patterson was the presiding judge over former Chief Justice Roy Moore's appeal against his removal from the Alabama Supreme Court.  A documentary film entitled In the Wake of the Assassins on Patterson was completed in 2007.  An authorized biography of Patterson entitled Nobody, but the People was published in 2008 by New South Books.

Patterson endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. On the day before Obama was sworn in, Patterson said that during his era, support for integrating the public schools was a political non-starter in Alabama:  When I became governor, there were 14 of us running for governor that time, and all 14 of us were outspoken for segregation in the public schools...And if you had been perceived not to have been strong for that, you would not have won...I regret that, but I could not do anything about it but live with it.  

John Patterson died on June 4, 2021

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