Albert Patterson Assassination Plus 50
Via Will Collier, I learn that the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Alabama Attorney General Albert Patterson was last week. A Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer interview with John Patterson, who replaced his father in office and was later elected governor, examines the sometimes high price paid for standing up to evil.
My father had gone to Montgomery that day because [June 18, 1954] was the day of the final canvass by the secretary of state and the official announcement of the vote. He had won the election by 1,400 votes statewide. He came back home that night from Montgomery. He went to his office down in the Coulter Building. Shortly before 9 p.m., he turned out the lights and shut his office and came down the steps to go around in the alley and come home. When he got into his car, he was approached by two men, and the witnesses identified the person on the left of my father as Chief Deputy Sheriff Albert Fuller and the person on the right as Arch Ferrell, the district attorney, or circuit solicitor we called them in those days. While this was going on Garrett had just spent about 10 hours I think before the Jefferson County grand jury in Birmingham being grilled about that vote fraud. He’d learned enough to know that the cat was out of the bag, that they knew about it.
I rushed to the office. As I drove up in front of the Coulter Building, there was a big crowd there. I rushed over there, and they had already taken Daddy to the hospital. I noticed on the sidewalk there a huge pool of blood. It was obviously a very serious thing, so I rushed out to the hospital and I went to the emergency room and he was lying on a gurney there covered by a sheet, and he was dead.
Standing over on the other side of the room was Fuller, Ferrell, Sheriff Matthews, all that crowd, standing over there looking shocked. I examined my father. I went through his pockets and got his belongings. Then I went over and told this group I didn’t want anybody there to touch my father. I wanted to go up to my mother’s. Chief Deputy Albert Fuller said he’d give me a ride home, and so I rode up to my mother’s with Albert Fuller, in his car, and on the way up there, Fuller said to me, “When we catch the man that did this, I’ll bring him to you.”
And he was one of the fellows that did it. All these people I’d known nearly all my life. Fuller and I had gone to high school together. You know, it’s hard to believe that folks you work with every day around the courthouse will kill you.
I saw after about two years in the attorney general’s office, if I wanted to be governor, I had the chance to be governor. We still hadn’t completely wiped out all the organized crime in the state. Now, looking back on the whole thing, this was not my chosen career. I wanted to practice law, I wanted to make money, and I wanted to have some of the good things in life. I wanted to travel.
But when those shots were fired on the night of June 18, 1954, that changed my life. I got into politics and am still in and have never been able to get out. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that, and I know the price that was paid for me to hold these offices. It gave me an incentive to try to do better and to certainly not do anything to dishonor my father or my family. This has sort of been the hallmark of my political life. Too late now to get out and do anything else. Now I’m 82, and I’m winding it down. It was a terrible price. I’d rather not have paid it. I’d rather not have had the offices.
I have to say that as far as things looked at that time, change was not in the cards. If it hadn’t have been for his assassination, the public sentiment would not have gelled to the point of demanding that that place be shut down. If something like that hadn’t have happened, in my judgment nothing would have been done about it.
Would you pay a price like that willingly to clean your town up? No, you wouldn’t do it. The problem with it is that you never know. If you let your town get that way, the price of cleaning it up is more than you would be willing to pay if you had a choice. And of course, we had no choice, and it was a terrible price to pay.
Indeed. It’s a lesson that applies to foreign policy as well as local politics.