John Malcolm Patterson was born in Goldville on Sept. 27, 1921, one of six children (two of whom would die in childhood) of Albert and Agnes (Benson) Patterson. His parents were schoolteachers, but his father became a lawyer in Phenix City, where John graduated from Central High School in 1939. He soon joined the Army as a private, attended Officer Candidate School, became an artillery lieutenant and fought in World War II in North Africa, Sicily, mainland Italy, France and Germany. He was discharged as a major in 1945.
His marriage to Gladys Broadwater in 1942 ended in divorce in 1945. In 1947, he married Mary Joe McGowin. They had two children, Albert and Barbara, and were divorced. In 1975, he married Florentina Brachert, who is known as Tina. Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Patterson earned a law degree in 1949 from the University of Alabama. He joined his father’s firm but was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and was an Army lawyer from 1951 to 1953. He then returned to law practice in Phenix City, a town notorious for brothels, gambling joints and other vices run by racketeers who controlled local politicians and catered to G.I.s from Fort Benning, Ga.
Pledging to clean up the vice, Albert Patterson won the Democratic nomination for state attorney general in 1954. He was soon shot dead by an assassin. (A deputy sheriff was convicted of the murder.) Vowing to carry out his father’s promises, John Patterson, who had shown little interest in politics, took his father’s place on the ballot, won a special election and became attorney general.
With the muscle of the National Guard, he drove the racketeers out of Phenix City in his first year in office. He also attacked widespread corruption in the administration of Gov. James E. Folsom. Planning to run for governor, Mr. Patterson catered to the electorate by winning a court order to ban the N.A.A.C.P. from operating in the state.
By the 1958 election, Mr. Patterson was Alabama’s toughest defender of segregation. Klansmen papered the state with his campaign posters, and in the primary he easily defeated Mr. Wallace, who supported segregation but not vehemently, and was viewed by many white voters as a racial moderate. After losing the election, Mr. Wallace, using a widely quoted racist slur, said that he had been outmaneuvered, and vowed to never let it happen again.
After leaving the governorship, Mr. Patterson lost races for governor in 1966 and for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 1970. Later in the ’70s he taught at Troy State University (now Troy University). Governor Wallace appointed him to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1984, and he won two elections and served until 1997, when he retired to his farm in Goldville.