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Governor Didn't Keep Mob From Freedom Riders

John Patterson later said he shouldn't have trusted local police to stop white mobs in Alabama
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 5, 2021 5:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – Former Alabama Gov. John Patterson, who entered politics as a reformer but was criticized for failing to protect the Freedom Riders from angry white mobs, has died. He was 99. His daughter, Barbara Patterson Scholl, said Patterson died peacefully at home, the AP reports. His involvement with state government spanned a half-century, beginning with his election as attorney general at 33 after violence in Phenix City, and later as a judge. A segregationist as governor, he drew criticism when Freedom Riders were attacked while in Alabama and Patterson did nothing to protect them. He later voiced regret for what happened. He ended his political career on the Court of Criminal Appeals, where he continued to write opinions into his 80s. Patterson also was involved in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, helping the CIA get Alabama Air National Guard members to train Cuban exiles. Some Alabama pilots died when the 1961 invasion of Cuba failed.

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After serving on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's staff during World War II, Patterson got his law degree from the University of Alabama and went into practice with his father. His father ran for attorney general in 1954 but was shot to death in June. Patterson ran in his place and won. As attorney general, Patterson cleaned up gambling and vice, as his father had promised. He also fought civil rights groups in court. He got a restraining order to keep the NAACP from operating in Alabama that remained in effect until the US Supreme Court lifted it in 1964. During his term as governor, the state launched a $100 million school building program, increased old age pensions, returned the State Docks to profitability, and enacted a small-loan law to curb loan sharks. But Alabama also saw attacks on the Freedom Riders seeking to integrate bus waiting rooms and lunch counters. Patterson said later he mistakenly trusted local police to protect the Freedom Riders. Exactly 50 years after they were beaten by a white mob in Montgomery, Patterson welcomed 10 Freedom Riders back for the dedication of a museum honoring them. "It took a lot of nerve and guts to do what they did," he said.

(Read more obituary stories.)

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