A 120 Year Tradition of Violence
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson dubbed Phenix City, Alabama "the
wickedest city in America." Phenix City, or Sodom as it was
called, provided a safe haven for criminals and runaway slaves.
During Prohibition the town became the main source of illegal liquor
for residents of prosperous Columbus, Georgia, just across the river.
Phenix City's gamblers, prostitutes and drug dealers enticed soldiers
training at nearby Ft. Benning. Chicago mobsters interested in Phenix
City's profits wound up at the bottom of the Chattahoochee River.
Sunday school teacher Hugh Bentley avoided the rough aspect of Phenix
City, like many others in town. While attending a business convention
in Chicago, he discovered that his hometown's seamy reputation preceded
him. Bentley felt the heat of an intense shame overtake him and
returned home to form the Russell Betterment Association (RBA) with
the guidance of attorney Albert Patterson. Risking their families,
businesses and their own lives, the members of the RBA met in secret
and fought to free their town of vice.
In 1954 Patterson ran for attorney general on the platform "a
man against crime." The night Patterson won the election an
assassin took his life. The National Guard marched in arresting
hundreds of people under Martial Rule.
The Film Project
A story that is as relevant today as it was in 1954, Phenix
City: The Fight for the Soul of a Small Southern Town addresses
the importance of community activism through the lessons learned
Phenix City will be a 30 minute documentary video shot on digital
video as a project in lieu of thesis for the Documentary Institute
at the University of Florida.
Coming in May, 2003.