John Malcolm Patterson (born September 27, 1921) is a retired American politician who was the 44th Governor of the U.S. state of Alabama, having served a single term from 1959 to 1963. Previously, from 1955 to 1959, he was his state's attorney general.
In 2003, Patterson was the presiding judge over former Chief Justice Roy Moore's appeal against his removal from the Alabama Supreme Court.
Patterson ran with the support of the Ku Klux Klan when he won the Governorship of Alabama in 1958.
Early life and career
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 at Tuscaloosa. 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.
Attorney General of Alabama
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, where he lived, and also across the state. In those days, 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 shot to death in Phenix City less than two weeks after winning the Democratic nomination on June 18, 1954. John Patterson replaced his father on the ballot, and as expected won the general election handily. The 1955 film The Phenix City Story was based on these events, and actor Richard Kiley portrayed Patterson in that film.
Patterson continued to fight organized crime, but became better 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 African Americans to enforce court decisions against segregation. When the 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.
Governor of Alabama
In 1958 Patterson ran for governor of Alabama on a strong law enforcement platform, citing his background in Phenix City and his crime-fighting efforts as attorney general. His strong stand on race earned him the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. Patterson won the Democratic primary against a field of candidates that included future governor George Wallace. Patterson became the second-youngest governor in Alabama history and the first to move directly from the post of attorney general to governor.
As governor, Patterson had black students who staged a sit-in at Alabama State University expelled, and defended Alabama's voter registration policies against federal criticism.
Aside from his support of segregation, Patterson's tenure was considered progressive for the time. During his term, the Alabama legislature increased funding for highways, inland waterways, schools, and mental health facilities. Laws curtailing loan sharking were also passed.
Role in the Bay of Pigs invasion
In 1959, Patterson was approached by the CIA to allow Alabama air national guardsmen to help train pilots preparing for an invasion of Castro's Cuba. Assured that the project had the backing of President Eisenhower (Patterson had served on Eisenhower's staff during the war), Patterson gave his assent.
During the 1960 presidential campaign Patterson was among a handful of Southern governors who backed John F. Kennedy for president. He raised money, collected delegates loyal to Kennedy within the state of Alabama and led the state's delegation to the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles. Patterson informed Kennedy of the plan, thinking that carrying out the invasion before election day would have benefited Kennedy's Republican opponent, Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Only a few months into his presidency, Kennedy approved a modified version of the invasion plan.
Failed election bids
Patterson left office in 1963; at the time the Constitution of Alabama did not allow governors to run for immediate reelection. His Democratic opponent, from 1958, George Wallace, succeeded him. In 1966 Patterson ran a second time for governor but was defeated by Wallace's wife, Lurleen, who was widely understood to be a surrogate candidate for her husband.
In 1972, Patterson unsuccessfully contested the Democratic nomination for the post of Alabama Chief Justice, losing to later U.S. Senator Howell Heflin.
Continued public service
From the late 1970s through the late 1980s, Patterson taught American government at Troy State University, now Troy 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, at which he remained until his retirement in 1997.
In 2003, Patterson was appointed chief justice of a Special Supreme Court that tried the case of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who appealed his removal from office after he had refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse despite orders from a federal court judge to do so. The special court ruled that Moore's removal was legal. In 2012, Moore was again elected as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama.
A 90-minute documentary film on Patterson was completed in 2007 by Alabama filmmaker Robert Clem. Entitled John Patterson: In the Wake of the Assassins, the film features an extended interview with Patterson himself as well as with journalists, historians. and such key figures as John Seigenthaler of Tennessee, aide to Robert Kennedy at the time of the Freedom Rides.
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.
An authorized biography of Patterson entitled Nobody but the People, written by historian Warren Trest, was published in 2008 by New South Books.
Alabama gubernatorial election, 1958:
Alabama gubernatorial election, 1966
Election of Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, 1970: