Tammy Ingram, Ph.D, is diving head-first into Phenix City’s troubled past in her new book, “The Wickedest City in America: Sex, Race, and Organized Crime in the Jim Crow South.”
“I’m interested in how Phenix City became this crime capital and why it lasted as long as it did,” she said. “I’m interested in putting it in context, and how politics of the Jim Crow South helped encourage that by discouraging outside help by federal or state authorities.”
Ingram has roots in the area. She grew up in Donalsonville, a city of about 2,700 people between Dothan and Bainbridge. She went on to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia, and then two more degrees from Yale, including her doctorate. One of her specialties is exploring the history that created the modern South.
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After the highly publicized murder of Albert Patterson, an attorney who had just won the primary election for state attorney general, Alabama Governor Seth Persons placed the town under martial law until the mob’s stranglehold on the city was over. The events are described in Alan Grady’s book, “When Good Men Do Nothing.”
Most popular accounts of Phenix City’s history have focused on Patterson’s murder and its backlash.
“That really is going to be the end of my book,” Ingram said.
Her book will instead focus on the kinds of things that caused criminal activity to begin and allowed it to flourish.
“There were the handful of people who were actually running the activities there, who owned the gambling rings and brothels, but most of the people who lived there were just ordinary people who for their own reasons, were tolerating it,” Ingram said.
“I’m more interested in those ordinary folks who were complicit, but for their own reasons, not because the were interested in participating directly.”
Getting that information hasn’t been easy. She spends most of her time in Montgomery, poring over case files and court records. She’s also spent some time looking through Columbus State University’s collections.
“It’s been a little difficult to get access to records in Phenix City,” Ingram said. “They’ve been really nice, but you know it’s a county courthouse — they don’t have a huge staff or a lot of time. I still have a lot to do there.”
Ingram expects to book to debut sometime in 2018.
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE