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John Patterson: In the Wake of the Assassins

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Has anyone researched John Malcolm Patterson in relation to the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Robert Clem made a 90-minute documentary film on John Patterson that was completed in 2007. "John Patterson: In the Wake of the Assassins", features an extended interview with Patterson himself as well as interviews with journalists and historians. Robert Kennedy explained in his interview with Anthony Lewis (1964): “I had this long relationship with John Patterson (the governor of Alabama). He was our great pal in the South."

Patterson was born in Goldville, Alabama, on 27th September, 1921. He joined the US Army in 1939 and during the Second World War and took part in the campaigns in Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. By 1945 he had achieved the rank of major. On his return to the United States he obtained a law degree from the University of Alabama. In 1951 he rejoined the army and took part in the Korean War. In 1953 he joined the law practice of his father, Albert Patterson.

The following year his father campaigned to become the Attorney Gerneral of Alabama. He claimed that he would tackle the corruption occurring in Phenix City and Russell County. His opponent in the election, Lee Porter, was accused of buying and stealing votes but on 10th June, 1954, he was declared the winner. On 18th June, Patterson was walking to his car, which was parked in an alley off Fifth Avenue in Phenix City, when an unidentified gunman walked up to him and shot him three times. Governor Gordon Persons declared martial law in the city. Three state officials, Chief Deputy Sheriff Albert Fuller, Circuit Solicitor Arch Ferrell and Attorney General Si Garrett, were arrested for the murder. Of the three, only Fuller was convicted; he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released after 10 years.

Later that year John Patterson was elected to the post of Attorney General on a policy of tackling organized crime and public corruption. However, once in power, he concentrated on dealing with the emerging civil rights movement. In the 1950s the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was involved in the struggle to end segregation on buses and trains. In 1954 segregation on inter-state buses was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. However, states in the Deep South, including Alabama continued their own policy of transport segregation. This usually involved whites sitting in the front and blacks sitting nearest to the front had to give up their seats to any whites that were standing.

African American people who disobeyed the state's transport segregation policies were arrested and fined. On 1st December, 1955, Rosa Parks, a middle-aged tailor's assistant from Montgomery, Alabama, who was tired after a hard day's work, refused to give up her seat to a white man. After her arrest, Martin Luther King, a pastor at the local Baptist Church, helped organize protests against bus segregation. It was decided that black people in Montgomery would refuse to use the buses until passengers were completely integrated. King was arrested and his house was fire-bombed. Others involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott also suffered from harassment and intimidation, but the protest continued. Patterson responded to this crisis by banning of NAACP from operating in the state of Alabama.

With the backing of the Ku Klux Klan, Patterson defeated George Wallace, backed by the NAACP in the Democratic primaries and was elected Governor in 1958. It has been claimed that this defeat turned Wallace from a civil rights supporter to an ardent segregationist. A supporter of the state's segregationist policies, Patterson ordered the expulsion of black students for staging a sit-in at Alabama State University, and defended the state's voter registration policies against leaders of the civil rights movement.

Transport segregation continued in some parts of the United States, so in 1961, a civil rights group, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) began to organize Freedom Rides. After three days of training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they travelled through the Deep South.

James Farmer, national director of CORE, and thirteen volunteers left Washington on 4th May, 1961, for the Deep South. The group were split between two buses. They travelled in integrated seating and visited "white only" restaurants. When they reached Anniston, Alabama on 14th May the Freedom Riders were attacked by men armed with clubs, bricks, iron pipes and knives. One of the buses was fire-bombed and the mob held the doors shut, intent on burning the riders to death.

The Freedom Riders now traveled onto Montgomery, Alabama. One of the passengers, James Zwerg later recalled: "As we were going from Birmingham to Montgomery, we'd look out the windows and we were kind of overwhelmed with the show of force - police cars with sub-machine guns attached to the backseats, planes going overhead... We had a real entourage accompanying us. Then, as we hit the city limits, it all just disappeared. As we pulled into the bus station a squad car pulled out - a police squad car. The police later said they knew nothing about our coming, and they did not arrive until after 20 minutes of beatings had taken place. Later we discovered that the instigator of the violence was a police sergeant who took a day off and was a member of the Klan. They knew we were coming. It was a set-up."

John Patterson appears to have forgiven President John F. Kennedy for interfering in Alabama's racial segregation policies. According to Seymour M. Hersh, Patterson played an important role in the Bay of Pigs Invasion against Fidel Castro and his new government in Cuba. Patterson gave permission for the Alabama Air National Guard aircraft to be used to transport Cuban emigres to training grounds in Nicaragua.

Does anyone know if Robert Clem's documentary deals with JFK's assassination?

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