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Hugh Bentley


Courtesy of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Deeply Religious
Hugh Bentley was a quiet religious man. His sense of Christian responsibility was instilled in him by his mother, Minnie.

 


Raised on the Rough Side

His father ran Bentley's Grocery which, like most grocery stores in Russell County, sold lottery tickets. Male children in Phenix City were usually aware of what was going on in the honky-tonks and Hugh was no exception.

Awakening
As an adult Hugh opened Bentley's Sporting Goods across the bridge in Columbus. He and his wife Bernice were active in the community and in their church. Bentley attended a sporting goods convention in Chicago in the 1940's where he was publicly humiliated about the reputation of Phenix City. Hugh returned home and began to investigate the allegation that Phenix City had an organized crime syndicate that was worse than Chicago's.

Activist
He organized the Christian Layman's Association in 1945, and held all night prayer vigils at different churches throughout Phenix City. By 1947 the organization had become divided and dissolved. In 1948 Bentley's organization, the Good Government League, was ineffective at halting vote fraud that the "machine" used to elect officials. Hugh Bentley's persistence at resisting the status quo of crime and vice in his home town led him to Albert Patterson in 1951. At Patterson's suggestion Hugh Bentley and ten other directors formed the Russell Betterment Association with Bentley as president.

Living His Convictions
On October 25, 1951, Hugh Bentley and 10 others signed papers of incorporation for the RBA. As a corporation, the RBA was able to get more press coverage of Phenix City's vice. Albert Patterson volunteered his services free of charge, though did not become a member himself. Hugh Bentley later received death threats. Gambling kingpin Hoyt Shepherd offered Hugh a political office in exchange for easing up on Phenix City's gamblers. Hugh declined the offer, stating that he only wanted a clean town with clean elections.

Personal Risk
Two and a half months later Bentley returned home one night to find his house blown up and his family alive beneath the rubble. Governor Gordon Persons promised to find the perpetrators. The investigation, led by Sheriff Ralph Mathews, Police Chief Pal Daniels and county solicitor Arch Ferrell, turned up no suspects. Bentley donated the insurance money to the RBA and began an effort to impeach Ralph Mathews.


The Fight
On May 6, 1952 the RBA sent watchers to cover the polls. Upon viewing rampant and open vote fraud, Bentley and his son Hughbo, along with RBA member Hugh Britton, demanded that County Judge Harry Randall arrest the offenders. Judge Randall refused. Bentley and gambler Head Revel exchanged words. As the three men returned to watch the polls, they were attacked and beaten in broad daylight. Law enforcement watched the brawl, but did nothing to stop the beating.

Following Through
Bentley helped Patterson run for attorney general, often speaking on his behalf and contributing financially to his campaign. When Patterson was murdered after winning the Democratic nomination, the National Guard marched into Phenix City and Hugh Bentley played a smaller role as he watched the process of the clean-up in action. The RBA was ever present during the clean-up, monitoring to ensure that the juries were fair.



MaBeachie
Albert Fuller
Albert Patterson
Hugh Bentley

John Patterson
Arch Ferrell
Si Garrett
Hoyt Shepherd


 

 

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Copyright December 3, 2002.
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Contact bauldree@ufl.edu for more information.