Luther Patrick Luther Patrick (1894-1957) was a U.S. representative for Alabama’s Ninth Congressional District in the Seventy-sixth and Seventy-seventh (1937-1942) and the Seventy-ninth Congresses (1945-1947). He was a private in the U.S. Army during World War I, practiced law in Jefferson County, and served as assistant attorney general in Alabama and an assistant U.S. district attorney. During his political career, he supported the laws and policies of the New Deal. Patrick also was a popular radio personality in Birmingham, Jefferson County, and the author of several books.
Patrick was born on January 23, 1894, in a small community outside of Decatur, Morgan County, to Francis Marion Patrick, a farmer, and Nancy L. Cobbs Patrick; he had eight siblings. The family was well respected and financially stable because his father owned the local post office. By 1900, the family was living in Cullman County, where Patrick attended the local schools. After graduation, Patrick started his collegiate career at Louisiana State University. He later transferred to Purdue University and then earned a law degree from the University of Alabama in 1918. That March, while living in Fairfield, Jefferson County, Luther married Pearl McPherson, with whom he would have one daughter. He was listed as working on his father’s farm and living in Vinemont on his World War I draft card. Patrick served in the U.S. Army in a training unit.
Luther Patrick in Uniform In 1919, Luther began practicing law in Fairfield. From 1920 to 1922, he was the city attorney and then served as the assistant attorney general of Alabama from 1927 to 1929. Around this time, Patrick also began working on radio stations WAPI and WBRC in Birmingham. The popular shows featured folksy tales and humorous commentary and earned Patrick favorable comparisons to Will Rogers. He became a sought-after public speaker, and these shows continued while he was in Congress. His law career also continued to flourish when he became the assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in 1933, serving until 1935 and gaining notice of Democratic leaders, who urged him to run for public office.
In 1936, Patrick began his political career, facing long-time incumbent George Huddleston Sr. to represent the Ninth Congressional District, which at the time consisted solely of Jefferson County. While campaigning, the pair crossed paths in a Birmingham cafe and reportedly engaged in a scuffle in which Huddleston hit Patrick over the head with a ketchup bottle. Patrick supported the labor movement and the New Deal, a collection of laws and policies that were enacted to recover from the Great Depression and focused on creating jobs, sponsoring public works projects, establishing new government entities such as the Social Security Administration and the Civil Works Administration, and granting loans to farmers. In contrast, former New Deal stalwart Huddleston had soured on some policies related to public utilities, coal, and social security and lost the seat in the Democratic primary. In March 1941, Patrick gave a lighthearted and self-mocking 32-point talk on the House floor entitled “Advice to New Members” on how new congressmen should behave. At the end of his career, he gave a speech entitled “A Lame Duck’s Report to Congress.”
Patrick served on the Mines and Mining, Executive Expenditures, and Public Buildings and Grounds Committees. He brought more than $9.5 million to his district within his first term. He was mostly loyal to the Democrats and often spoke out against partisanship, stating that a congressman’s purpose is to serve all constituents, even those who voted against them. He aligned his politics with that of the New Deal and often voted for bills that sustained Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s national recovery goals, such as expediting Works Progress Administration programs, fair labor standards, and road construction. His civil rights stances, such as voting against making lynching a punishable crime, placed him on the wrong side of history, but he opposed the Dixiecrat movement that favored maintaining racial segregation.
Luther Patrick Protesting Prior to U.S. entry in World War II, Patrick was an avid supporter of U.S. participation and made his stance clear by joining protests against anti-war demonstrations. In one June 1941 instance, Patrick stood outside of the White House peeling potatoes and carrying a sign mocking those who opposed the war, “You know how to picket, but do you know how to work?” The effort was met with approval by his fellow congressmen and ridicule from working-class Americans. Patrick lost his seat in 1942 to John Parks Newsome. He then consulted from 1943 to 1945 with the War Production Board, which oversaw that allocation of resources and industries producing war materiel.
Patrick was re-elected to the Seventy-ninth Congress in 1944, defeating Newsome. In the caustic campaign, Patrick charged Newsome with supporting Republican policies, and Newsome suggested that Patrick wanted to repeal the poll tax. (Alabama did not revoke the poll tax until after the Middle District Court declared it unconstitutional in 1966.) Patrick then served on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. He started practicing law in Birmingham, Jefferson County, in 1946. He lost his bid for renomination to decorated war veteran and conservative Democrat Laurie Calvin Battle in the primary.
Prior to his Congressional career and after, Patrick wrote books of short stories: Hope Ye’re Livin’ An’ Doin’ Well (1932), Friends, Neighbors, Kinfolks (1946), Goosepocket (1955), and a volume of poetry, Voices from the Sedgefield. His poem “Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed” and other poems were used in television segments across the state, and he frequently wrote for magazines and newspapers. His lengthy collection of verse and prose, Dixielore, was never published but is available in several archives. These stories and poems often featured folktales from his youth.
After Patrick’s term ended in 1947, his health declined because of severe arthritis, and he was later confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He served as a delegate to the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Patrick died on May 26, 1957, in Birmingham and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Auburn University‘s Special Collections and Archives and the Birmingham Public Library have collections of Patrick’s papers.