Alabama Governors

John Malcolm Patterson

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor John Patterson




John Malcolm Patterson was born in Goldville, Alabama, on September 27, 1921. Between service in World War II and the Korean conflict he obtained an LL.B. in 1949 from the University of Alabama. In 1953 Patterson returned to Phenix City, Alabama, and joined the law practice of his father, Albert Patterson. The following year Albert won the Democratic Party's nomination for Attorney General on a pledge to clean up the vice and illegal gambling that was running rampant in Phenix City. After his father was murdered, John Patterson was elected Attorney General to carry out his father's platform.


Attorney General Patterson continued his campaign against organized crime. His actions regarding civil rights activities, however, soon became more prominent. He successfully banned the NAACP from operating in the state and instigated legal action to combat the black community's boycott of Tuskegee businesses and Montgomery buses. With his anti-civil rights record and backing from the Ku Klux Klan, Patterson succeeded in defeating George C. Wallace in the 1958 governor's race.


Patterson's four-year gubernatorial term was a stormy one due to the civil rights movement. Staunchly supporting the state's segregationist stance in the early 1960s, Patterson instigated the expulsion of black students who staged a sit-in at Alabama State University and clashed with federal officials over voter registration policies and the state's reluctance to intervene in the violence that accompanied the "Freedom Riders" to the state.


Governor Patterson was more effective with his legislative agenda. During his administration the legislature approved bond issues for highway and school construction and provided additional funding for facilities for the mentally ill. Old age pensions were supplemented, including free hospitalization for elderly patients. Programs begun under the Folsom administration to improve Alabama's waterways and docks were expanded. Patterson also succeeded in pushing through a tougher small-loan law that effectively curtailed the activities of loan sharks. Construction began on the State Highway Building and the Industrial Relations Building during his term. In 1960, the federal National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected Huntsville as the site for the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.


After his term ended, Patterson practiced law in Montgomery and was defeated in a 1966 bid for governor by Lurleen Wallace. He ran unsuccessfully for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1972, then was appointed to the State Court of Criminal Appeals in 1984. That office he retained in subsequent elections until his retirement in January of 1997.

Grafton, Carl and Permaloff, Anne. Big Mules and Branchheads: James E. Folsom and Political Power in Alabama, 1985.
Montgomery Advertiser, October 21, 1962.
Montgomery Advertiser and Alabama Journal, December 6, 1988.
National Cyclopedia of American Biography.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.