In January 2017, former Phenix City Vice Chancellor Dr. David White formed a committee of civic, community, and TROY volunteers to plan local events and projects in Phenix City and Russell County in celebration of the Alabama Bicentennial, a three-year celebration of the people, places, and events that form Alabama’s history.
The Alabama Bicentennial Committee in Phenix City and Russell County recently produced a series of successful projects as a result of over three years of planning and dedication. One project involved the commission of a full-sized statue of Albert Patterson, a prominent politician and attorney in Phenix City, Alabama, with funding from the Russell County Commission, Russell County Tourism, Alabama Department of Tourism, CTV Beam, WestRock, the Roy Green family, Troy Bank and Trust, and Troy University.
Patterson was assassinated outside of his law office on June 18, 1954, steps away from the present-day location of the University’s Phenix City campus, shortly after he won the Democratic nomination for Alabama Attorney General. Patterson announced his candidacy on the platform of “cleaning up” the city, which was largely run by organized crime and corrupt politicians at the time.
The statue was completed by Phenix City native sculptor, Jon Lumpkin.
“That was the exciting part,” says Lumpkin. “That [the committee] was choosing to commemorate this event in the city’s history — an important, pivotal part [in history]
— that had previously been shied away from by the locals.”
Historically, it has proved difficult to talk to first- and second-generation natives about Phenix City’s mid-century corruption. Locals insist on looking ahead to the future rather than dwelling on the city’s past. All along, the committee’s guiding purpose for this series of projects was to acknowledge impactful moments in local history, both positive and negative, as a backdrop to celebrations of ongoing progress.
Patterson’s assassination served as the catalyst for reformative change in Phenix City. In January 1956, less than two years later, Phenix City was recognized as an All-America City.
“It’s a great lesson in civics, about who we elect, against whom we protest, against when we speak up, and whether or not we have the courage we speak up,” says former Vice Chancellor and committee chair, Dr. David White. “It’s a story about sacrifice. Someone gave their life so that the city could once and for all make that change.”
Another recently completed project involved the production of a short documentary film through a TROY grant with funding from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The film captures highlights of Phenix City’s history and future developments through interviews with community and civic leaders John Patterson, former Governor of Alabama; Chance Corbett, Russell County Commissioner; Kenneth Funderburk, Attorney at Law; Dr. David White, former Vice Chancellor of the Phenix City Campus; and Phenix City native artists Mike Howard and Jon Lumpkin.
Several works by Howard, including the Phenix City Story series, adorn the walls of the Phenix City Campus. Howard donated nearly $2 million worth of artwork to the campus with the dedication of the new riverfront building in 2014.
The 12-minute film is available to view on the Phenix City Campus Facebook page.
Other committee projects include the publishing of a comprehensive history of Russell County and Phenix City authored by James Centric, and an ongoing collection of stories from local community members.