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Ala. attorney general who battled Wallace dies

/ Source: The Associated Press

Former Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers, who challenged segregationist Gov. George Wallace’s dominance in the 1960s but saw his political career end in an extortion case, has died. He was 88.

An obituary released by Byrd Funeral Home said Flowers died at his home Thursday. A cause of death was not given.

Flowers was elected attorney general in 1962, the year Wallace won his first term as governor, and Flowers soon took socially progressive actions in contrast to Wallace’s call for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

As attorney general, Flowers took over from local prosecutors in 1965 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. But the defendant was found innocent by an all-white jury.

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.”

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, who contended politics was behind the extortion investigation, was sentenced to eight years in prison and served about 1½ years before he was paroled.

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.