Tag Archives: The Phenix City Story

The Martyr of Phenix City

15 Mar

There have been tons of movies about corruption in America’s cities. The list is long, but it includes:

New York

Las Vegas

Los Angeles

Chicago

Boston

Phenix City, Alabama

Have you never heard of Phenix City?

In the 1940s and 1950s, Phenix City was a den of organized crime that included prostitution and gambling. Those enterprises were successful because Fort Benning sat across the border in Georgia. Where there is the military, there are young men with money. Where there are young men with money, there are folks who come up with ways to get that money. Phenix City was where those folks were based.

However, there were also folks who did not want their community to be dominated by corruption and who worked to clean up the town. Albert Patterson, lawyer and politician, was one of those people.Albert Patterson

He served in the Alabama state senate from 1947 to 1951. After that service, he joined the Russell Betterment Association to help eradicate organized crime from Phenix City and Russell County.

This did not sit well with those who profited from vice, which was proven by the resulting violence. The members of the Russell Betterment Association decided that it had to be fought on the state level. Since Patterson had held office in the capital, he was supported for the Democratic nomination for State Attorney General.

At the time, Alabama was a one-party state, and the Democrats were that party. If you won the primary, then you had won the office. That was not a result that the organized crime figures of Phenix City could tolerate. In 1954, Patterson left his office and was assassinated while getting into his car. His son, John Patterson, replaced his father on the ballot and won. He would later become governor.

In 1955, Hollywood entered the picture and released The Phenix City Story, which told the tale that I just wrote about. It stars John McIntire as Albert Patterson and fits in the film noir mode.

So, why am I writing about long ago corruption in an Alabama town?

Well, I have heard about Phenix City my entire life. My dad was interested in the story and liked the movie. One day, I watched it with him and listened to him talk about how this really happened. I also became interested in the story and, through the years, picked up pieces of information. As I learned more about the story, there was always something nagging at the back of my mind. There was some bit of information that I knew was in there, but I kept missing it. Finally, I started digging around and figured it out. I could have heard it before and forgotten it. I could have just suspected it. Now, I know.

Albert Patterson, whose fight against organized crime and resulting death was chronicled in a movie, graduated from Cumberland University.