Monday, August 13, 2007

Remembering Richmond M. Flowers

Former Alabama Attorney General, Richmond Flowers, died this week renewing the debate regarding the circumstances surrounding his political demise. I can recall seeing the movie about his life a couple of times in the 1980's. I can't recall the name of the movie but I definitely remember the part pertaining to his son Richmond Flowers Jr.

Flowers attended Auburn University and the University of Alabama Law School. Serving under Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Command during WWII, Flowers returned home to Alabama to practice law. Elected to the Alabama State Senate in 1954 and Attorney General in 1962.

The civil rights movement and the violence that followed would sharply divide the South and the Nation for years to come. Civil rights activist and volunteers were coming South to fight the cause of civil liberties and integration leaving Richmond Flowers stuck between his constitutional duties as AG and the majority of people in Alabama.

In 1965, Flowers prosecuted Lowndes County Sheriff Deputy, T.L Coleman, for the murder of a seminary student who had been helping register black voters. Coleman was also being tried for the attempted murder of a Catholic Priest.

This pitted Flowers against the conservative white voters of Alabama and Gov. George C. Wallace's political machine. I'm not sure if Flowers was just doing his duty or that he believed in the cause. Some say he believed in both. Either way this was the beginning of the end for Richmond Flowers political life.

Flowers was unsuccessful in prosecuting Coleman whereas Coleman was acquitted. Flowers would then jump into the Governor's race in 1966 losing badly to Lurleen Wallace. George C. Wallace, who could not succeed himself was still in solid control of Alabama politics. Wallace had long political arms and some still wonder just how long they could be at times.

What happened next or why and how it happened is still open for debate. Richmond Flowers wound up being charged and convicted for extortion in 1969. Claiming a political hack job and conspiracy, Flowers was unsuccessful in his appeals and went to prison in 1972. Paroled in 1974, Richmond Flowers received a Presidential Pardon from Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Had justice been served? Had Richmond Flowers bitten off more than he could chew? Had Flowers fallen victim to a plot carried out by his political enemies? We will probably never know all the facts but where Richmond Flowers did not succeed his son surely did.

One can only imagine what life was like for Richmond Flowers Jr. in the 1960's. Here you are in High School and your father is one of the most controversial and hated white men in Alabama. What do you do? You win!

Richmond Flowers Jr. would go onto to become one the greatest high school athletes not only in Alabama history but also in the South. In high school, Flowers set the national record for high hurdles, tied the national record for low hurdles and set 5 state records on his way to winning 5 individual state championships in 1964 while participating in track and field.

Colleges from across the country offered scholarships to Richmond Flowers Jr. Guess which university he chose? No, not Alabama. He chose the University of Tennessee where he participated in football as well as track and field.

By his Junior year, Flowers had become the all-time leading receiver for UT's Football Program. Before graduating, Flowers would achieve All-American status in football, track and field. He received the honor of All-American 4 times in track and field.

Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1970, Flowers would be a member of the Cowboys team that played in Super Bowl V. He continued playing football for a number of years. In 1998, Richmond Flowers Jr. was named one of the 12 "Living Legends of SEC Football" and in 2002 he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

For Richmond Flowers there was no vindication for a personal, political and professional life that slipped away so quickly amidst the turmoil of the 1960's. I can only imagine the lessons and the scars that Richmond Flowers Jr. carried with him. Live a better life, be a better man and WIN!!!

I'm not sure who was right and who was wrong in this story. I don't know if Richmond Flowers thought he was Atticus Finch? I do have a sneaking suspicion that Richmond Flowers really was Atticus Finch and that my Alabama boys might have been guilty of killing a mockingbird.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1989 Made for TV Movie. Unconquered is based on the Richmond Flowers family.Flowers Sr(Coyote) is an unpopular Attorney General in Alabama,he's a white politician who supports integration and is friends with Martin Luther King. His son,played by Dermot Mulroney,is an aspiring football player,who isn't exactly the most popular kid in school on account of Dad's reputation and sometimes wishes his dad was like everyone else.He quickly befriends another nonconformist's son,the dorky yet endearing Arnie(Whaley) and the tough,outspoken Cindy(Jenny Robertson). Touching and important,the story depicts a part of history that makes us feel both ashamed and sad,yet it also depicts a part of history that gave birth to strong,good men and women who through their words and deeds changed the world.Though there was and perhaps always will be the stench of hate and prejudice the Richmonds,Arnies and Cindys of the world remained and will remain unconquered.