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Former Alabama AG Flowers, who challenged Wallace, dies

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Former Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers, a racial moderate who challenged segregationist Gov. George Wallace's dominance in 1966 but saw his political career end in an extortion case, has died. He was 88.

Flowers died from Parkinson's disease at his home in Dothan on Thursday, his son, Richmond Flowers Jr., said Friday.

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

Flowers was one of the first "New South politicians" who realized 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 from Auburn University who has written about Alabama history.

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

"There's probably a touch of both in him," Flynt said.

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

Also that year, Flowers took over from local prosecutors in the slaying of Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights worker from Detroit who was killed by gunshots 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 tried and convicted in federal court of violating Liuzzo's civil rights.

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

Among Flowers' campaign pledges were 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 that "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 Friday.

"It didn't play well with Wallace and they never made up," said Ingram.

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

In 1968, Flowers was accused with two others on federal charges of extorting payments from life insurance companies in return for being allowed to do business in the state when Flowers was attorney general. All three defendants were convicted in federal court in 1969.

Flowers was sentenced to eight years in prison, but served from 1972-1974, when he got paroled. President Jimmy Carter gave him a pardon in 1978.

Flowers always contended politics was behind the extortion investigation, but appeals courts ruled against him.

"He didn't have a case there," said Ingram, who covered Flowers' years as attorney general.

Richmond Flowers Jr. said he sometimes wondered in the 1960s why his father was taking such controversial positions, but now he looks back proudly.

"It ultimately cost him his poltical life, but he did the right thing," the son said.

Flowers, a World War II veteran, was elected to the state Senate in 1954 and became an ally of Gov. James E. "Big Jim" Folsom, who was a moderate on race. Flowers was the subject of a 1989 television movie, "Unconquered," focusing on the racial turmoil in the 1960s.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Russell Flowers, two sons, a daughter, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His son Richmond Jr. and grandson Richmond III both became football stars.

A memorial service is set for 4 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Dothan.

On the Net: http://www.richmondflowers.com

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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