Richmond Flowers; Ala. Attorney General Opposed Segregation

In 1965, Richmond Flowers, then Alabama's attorney general, prosecuted suspects in the slayings of two civil-rights workers.
In 1965, Richmond Flowers, then Alabama's attorney general, prosecuted suspects in the slayings of two civil-rights workers. (Associated Press)
By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press
Sunday, August 12, 2007

Richmond Flowers, 88, the former Alabama attorney general who challenged segregationist Gov. George Wallace's dominance in 1966 but saw his political career end in scandal, died Aug. 9 of Parkinson's disease at his home in Dothan, Ala.

Mr. Flowers was elected attorney general in 1962, the year Wallace won his first term as governor. He counseled against outright defiance of federal authority, in contrast to Wallace's call for "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"

Mr. Flowers was one of the first "New South" politicians who realized that the 1965 Voting Rights Acts would change the political landscape of the South by registering thousands of blacks to vote, said Wayne Flynt, a retired history professor at Auburn University, who has written extensively about Alabama history.

Some people considered Mr. Flowers a political opportunist who sought to take advantage of changing times, Flynt said, but others looked at him as a courageous fighter who was willing to anger white voters during the tumultuous '60s.

In 1965, Mr. Flowers prosecuted Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff T.L. Coleman for the murder of Jonathan Daniels, a white civil rights activist who was attempting to register blacks to vote. A local jury determined that Coleman acted in self-defense and acquitted him.

In the same year, Mr. Flowers took over from local prosecutors in the slaying of Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights worker from Detroit who was killed by gunshots fired from a car of Ku Klux Klan nightriders as she transported protesters after the Selma-to-Montgomery voting-rights march. An all-white jury acquitted four Klansmen, but they were later convicted in federal court of violating Liuzzo's civil rights.

Mr. Flowers ran in the Democratic primary for governor in 1966 when Wallace's wife, Lurleen Wallace, ran in her husband's place, because Alabama law at the time barred governors from running for a second term.

Mr. Flowers pledged to improve the school system and to fly the American flag from the state Capitol dome, where only the state and Confederate flags flew at the time. He called the old way of doing things "a gesture of defiance that must be put behind us."

"He thought it was time to 'return to the Union,' as he put it," Bob Ingram, a longtime political reporter and columnist in Montgomery, said. "It didn't play well with Wallace, and they never made up."

Lurleen Wallace trounced the field and became governor, later dying in office. Meanwhile, her husband launched a campaign for president.

In 1968, when he was attorney general, Mr. Flowers and two others were indicted in federal court for extorting payments from life insurance companies in return for being allowed to do business in the state. All three defendants were convicted in 1969.

Mr. Flowers was sentenced to eight years in prison and served two years, from 1972 to 1974, when he was paroled. He always contended that politics was behind the extortion investigation, but appeals courts ruled against him. President Jimmy Carter pardoned him in 1978.

Mr. Flowers was born in Dothan and was a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law. He was an Army officer in World War II, assigned to the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific theater.

In 1954, after having a small law practice in Dothan, he was elected to the Alabama Senate, where he became an ally of Gov. James E. "Big Jim" Folsom, a racial moderate. Mr. Flowers was the subject of a 1989 television movie, "Unconquered," focusing on the racial turmoil in the 1960s.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Mary Russell Flowers; three children; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His son Richmond Flowers Jr. and grandson Richmond Flowers III were college football stars.

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