Tales of intrigue from Tommy Gallion: An intrepid attorney, with deep Southern roots, has vivid memories of corruption in Phenix City, Alabama

 


Shadow Government, Southern Style: A Saga of Political Corruption From D.C. to Dixie (2020), by Thomas T. Gallion III; available from Amazon and Kindle eBooks

We recently compared the current corruption in Birmingham -- swirling around Drummond Company, Alabama Power, and Balch & Bingham -- to the rancid situation that engulfed Phenix City, Alabama, in the mid 1900s and suggested a similar clean-up operation likely is needed now. Many Alabamians probably have forgotten, or maybe never knew, Phenix City once was a hot bed of criminality. Montgomery attorney and author Tommy Gallon remembers it vividly, mainly because his father (Thomas T. Gallion II) was part of the effort to loosen the grip thugs had on the town.

In fact, Tommy Gallion devotes Part One of his book, the first 56 pages, to the Phenix City story -- and he notes that things aren't all that different today, except that maybe the modern crooks have a little cleaner smell about them. In fact, Gallion notes that broken legal, political, and law-enforcement systems played major roles in the Phenix City corruption, just as they do today. From Shadow Government

As he was leaving his Phenix City law office in the late afternoon of June 18, 1954, newly elected Alabama Attorney General Albert Patterson was gunned down. Patterson was a state senator from one of the most corrupt municipalities in the country. Phenix City harbored any form of gambling, prostitution, and political payoffs, a fact that was never hidden and often flaunted. Phenix City neighbored the largest army base in the country, Fort Benning, Georgia, which both fed and fueled the vices available on the Alabama side. Mobsters and gamblers from Chicago, New York, and all over the country flocked to Phenix City, pouring millions of dollars into this rather small hamlet and enabling the corrupt politicians to line their greedy pockets ad nauseum. Patterson had run for attorney general on the platform of cleaning up Phenix City. My father decided to get his name out statewide in Alabama politics and entered the attorney general race. He had seen the corrupt Attorney General Si Garrett in action and knew Garrett and the Alabama Mafia had to be stopped.

Of the three candidates in the race, Lee Porter was the favorite of Gov. "Big Jim" Folsom, Si Garrett, and the Phenix City mob. In an election marked by allegations of fraud, Patterson led the vote, Gallion II barely was second, and Porter made the runoff:

The next day, my father received a call from one of the mobsters who attempted to pay him to endorse Porter. My father told this mobster, in no uncertain terms, to go to hell. The next day, my father endorsed Patterson. He knew that the Folsom-Garrett gang had stolen the election for Lee Porter, which was later proven to be true. Patterson won the runoff on May 5, 1954. The corrupt politicians and the racketeers had gone into panic mode and knew they were about to lose millions coming into their coffers. Their solution was to connive with Si Garrett, Russell County District Attorney Arch Ferrell (who was a college classmate of Porter), and Russell County Deputy Sheriff Albert Fuller, and eliminate their problem, who was Albert Patterson. . . . Patterson's assassination had stunned my father. He knew how dangerous Garrett was, but he had no idea the machine would resort to murder.

Two days after Patterson's murder, Gallion rode with his father to Phenix City:

We arrived at dawn. The scene I witnessed has been permanently seared into my brain. If I ever knew anything resembled hell, this was it. The National Guard had moved into town, placed all the slot machines and other gambling devices into the middle of the street and set them afire, resulting in a tremendous blaze. Prostitutes dressed in their slinky attire were being herded around like cattle. Dope addicts lay in the gutters as if they were dead. This was quite a surreal scene to the eyes of a 10-year-old boy; however, it grew worse. The National Guard, under the leadership of General "Crack" Hanna, dragged the Chattahoochee River for the gun that had been used to kill Patterson. They gave up when they found so many guns and human bones that to search any further would have proven futile. No telling how many soldiers who had been designated AWOL rested at the bottom of that river.

What was life like for the Gallion family in the coming days. In a word, it was scary. Tommy, his mother, and sister took refuge in Panama City, Florida, because of threats against the family. When it appeared gangsters had tracked them to Panama City, Alabama State Troopers took them to Sarasota, Florida. Alabama Gov. Lewis Parsons had appointed Gallion II as a special prosecutor in the Phenix City investigation.  

The probe quickly focused on Garrett and Ferrell as planners of the Patterson murder, and they set out to make Deputy Fuller (the trigger man) their fall guy. Fuller was found guilty, Ferrell was acquitted, and Garrett was admitted to a psychiatric facility in Galveston, Texas. Murder charges eventually were dropped against Garrett after he was released from the mental-health facility:

The Phenix City story still lingers in the minds of older citizens of Alabama and West Georgia The sensational murder of Albert Patterson and the political corruption have never been matched until 2002, when gambling and payoffs to Republican politicians entered the picture like a juggernaut. This time, it was not Democrats; every elected official in Alabama was a Democrat  from the 1920s through the 1970s. However, after the mid-seventies, many crooked Democrats became Republicans and simply continued the gambling/political payoffs as before. . . . 

Ed Strickland, an outstanding reporter with the Birmingham News and Gene Wortsman, a reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald co-authored Phenix City: The Wickedest City in America. . . . Ed and Gene's book became one of the bestsellers in Alabama at that time, followed by Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Winston Groom's Forrest Gump. The Phenix City book, like the others, was made into a movie, but unlike the others, it was a true story. However, when the Hollywood script writers and producers got through with Ed and Gene's book, much of the story became fiction. . . . As is often the case, Hollywood butchered the book.

Did corruption cease in Alabama with the end of the Phenix City saga? Not exactly:

Big-time political corruption slowed down a bit in Alabama, when a Republican Congressman from Alabama decided to run for governor . . . Political prosecution [was] used as a means to achieve public office, to facilitate stealing from the State of Alabama, and to send blacks back into the 1960s, while destroying one of the most historic black cities [Tuskegee) in the nation.

Bear in mind that the same corruption simply went from the Southern Democrats . . . to the Alabama Republican Party, starting with Alabama's first Republican Governor Guy Hunt to the more recent Robert Bentley, both of whom were charged with criminal acts. Between those two was Republican Governor Bob Riley who should have been charged as a criminal, too, but he was smarter than the others and controlled the prosecutors and the court system. The recent Republican speaker of the House of Representatives (the most powerful person in Alabama) was recently convicted of several felonies. That was Mike Hubbard, a close associate of Bob Riley. Hubbard's conviction involved several members of a group I've named "The Cabal."

Also, remain aware that in Alabama, whichever political party the blacks espouse, the majority will go to the opposite party. In my opinion, the aforementioned people destroyed what once was a very good Republican Party in Alabama.