Celebrating 50 years of covering Alabama politics
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY-I can only hope that the editor of this fine newspaper, as well as you readers, will grant this old-timer the license to remember a special anniversary in this space this week.
It was 50 years ago this week that I entered the arena of political writing. It was on April 2, 1954, that Editor Grover C. Hall Jr. summoned me to his office at the Montgomery Advertiser and told me that, effective immediately, I was being promoted to the position of Capitol Reporter.
I was delighted but also astonished. We were but a month away from a huge election and I wondered why they were removing the veteran Capitol Reporter from the beat and giving it to a neophyte like me. I soon found out.
The Advertiser had learned that the other reporter was on the payroll of James E. (Big Jim) Folsom, who was running for a second term in the upcoming primary. In fact, the reporter was hosting a radio show every Sunday morning in Columbus, Ga., which was paid for by the Folsom campaign. That was a no-no then and now. (Why he thought he wouldn't be found out remains to this day a mystery to me.)
To say that my career in the political arena got off to a rousing start would be an understatement. There was the huge election on May 4, then less than two weeks later on May 17, the U. S. Supreme Court issued its landmark school desegregation decision (Brown vs. Board of Education), and a month later on, June 18, Atty. Gen.-nominee Albert Patterson was shot to death in Phenix City.
I hit the ground running and haven't slowed down since.
For the record, Folsom won that election by a landslide, beating the likes of Jimmy Faulkner, Jim Allen, Bruce Henderson and a few other run-for-the-fun-of-it candidates.
A sidebar to that election. State Sen. Guy Hardwick of Dothan attracted no opposition when he qualified for lieutenant governor, but late in the qualifying period an unknown from Barbour County tossed his hat in the ring. His name was Ralph (Shorty) Price, who in the ensuing years was to become the familiar "Clown Prince" of Alabama politics.
Hardwick won the race in 1954 by an overwhelming margin of 396,000 to 97,000, but Price turned that into a plus. In all of his later races, he proudly boasted on his campaign literature that he was "runner-up" for lieutenant governor in '54. He was. He also finished dead last.
It was also that election that led to the murder of Albert Patterson. He had run on a pledge to clean-up Phenix City, and he won the nomination in a bitter run-off with Lee (Red) Porter of Gadsden.
To say that race was close is an understatement-Patterson defeated Porter by 854 votes-191,766 to 190,912. Less than three weeks after that run-off victory, Patterson was shot to death.
With so much attention focused on the races for governor and attorney general, it was only later could appreciation be given to the election of perhaps the most remarkable crop of new members of the Alabama Legislature in history…men who were to make major dents, good and bad, in state politics and government.
Men like Roland Cooper, Richmond Flowers, Albert Boutwell and Sam Engelhardt in the Senate, and a laundry list of bright up-and-comers in the House: Ryan deGraffenried, Albert Brewer, Bob Gilchrist, Pete Mathews, Bert Haltom and Joe Goodwyn to mention a few.
As to the high court decision which called for an end of school segregation, I need not tell you the impact it had on Alabama and Alabama politics.
No one could have imagined how long it would be before that decision would be fully implemented.
The court had said it must be done "with all deliberate speed," but stubborn politicians in this state and throughout most of the South gave new meaning to "deliberate speed."
But as I observe my "Golden Anniversary" of covering Alabama politics, those first few weeks on the job are firmly etched in my memory bank.