John Patterson served as governor of Alabama from 1959 to 1963, when he was succeeded by the man he beat four years earlier, George C. Wallace. Like Big Jim Folsom, who was governor from 1947 to 1951 and 1955 to 1959, John Patterson was a populist who believed in continuing the legacy of the New Deal, raising money for schools, roads and old age pensions, and protecting the poor as he did when he eliminated loan sharks from the state. As attorney general, Patterson had used the courts to slow down the onset of racial integration. He justified these legal maneuvers as a means of preventing a violent reaction to the new realities decreed by the U.S. Supreme Court. His successful injunction against the NAACP for failing to register as an out of state corporation earned him major political points, which he exploited in his campaign for governor in 1958. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ray Jenkins, who covered Governor Patterson as city editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, gives his opinion of Patterson's racial stance.

In the pages that follow are separate treatments of Patterson's link with J.F.K., Alabama's role in the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the violent history of the Freedom Rides.