Patterson returned home to Alabama and went to college. He taught
school in several counties throughout Alabama and studied law.
He moved to Alexander City and set up a law practice, where he
also worked as a superintendent of schools. Patterson had a reputation
as a strict disciplinarian among his students.
In 1933 he moved the family and his law practice to Phenix City
because of economic stress in Alexander City. The Phenix City
area, with nearby Ft. Benning had a steady flow of income and
offered a better means of supporting his family.
In 1945 Patterson was elected to the Alabama state senate with
backing from the racketeers, or the Phenix City Machine as they
were called. Patterson was one of many attorneys hired by gambling
kingpin Hoyt Shepherd in 1946 for the defense of a murder charge.
In 1949 Patterson defended gambler Head Revel. After losing the
Revel case he resolved to never again defend anyone not involved
in legitimate business.
Acting on His Conscience
Patterson's change of heart was not so evident to the
masses when he ran for attorney general with the backing of the
Russell Betterment Association (RBA). Even though Patterson's
campaign platform was "a man against crime," his opponent,
Lee Porter encouraged the rumor that Patterson was the "machine"
candidate by running on the platform, "Beat the Phenix City
Machine." Ironically, Porter accepted $25,000 in campaign
contributions from known gamblers and was backed by Russell County
solicitor Arch Ferrell and Attorney General Si Garrett, who had
been vocal in defending corrupt Phenix City officials.
On June 18, 1954, Patterson was assassinated in an alley near
his downtown Phenix City law office. His murder was the catalyst
that set in motion the only Phenix City clean-up ever to have
lasting effects. The Alabama National Guard marched in and martial
rule was declared. Patterson's son John ran in his place and served
as attorney general.
The case drew national attention and has been the subject of several
books and films. The local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger, won
a Pulitzer for its coverage of the murder and clean-up.
Many have commented that had Patterson not been murdered, Phenix
City probably would not have seen reform to the extent that it
did. Considering the impact his father's murder had on his family,
John Patterson adds, "To us the price was too high."