One of the legendary figures in Alabama political lore is Floyd Mann.
Col. Mann was the public safety director for two governors. His lifetime friend, John Patterson, made him his public safety director while he was governor from 1958-1962 and Albert Brewer chose Mann to be his director while he was governor from 1968-1970.
The public safety director in those days was referred to as the head of the state troopers. It was during the Patterson administration that Mann made his mark in Alabama history.
The hot winds of segregation began to blow after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and had reached a crescendo inferno in the Heart of Dixie by 1958.
There were buses of freedom riders who bravely traveled to Alabama and other Deep South states advocating for integration in the state and region. They first arrived in Anniston and were met by a horde of Calhoun County Kluxers and would have been beaten to death if they had not hurriedly escaped before even departing their bus.
The state troopers and every police system in the state were alerted the Freedom Riders narrowly avoided death, their bus was headed to Montgomery and they needed protection. Not surprisingly, Gov. Patterson and all the white law enforcement communities ignored the plea for help and security.
When the Freedom Riders arrived at the old Greyhound bus station behind the federal courthouse in Montgomery, they were met and surrounded by 50 to 75 white citizens who had baseball bats ready to welcome the Freedom Riders to the Cradle of the Confederacy. There was not one Montgomery policeman anywhere in sight.
Mann got word of the scenario. He immediately jumped into the head of public safety trooper car and drove 90 miles per hour down Dexter Avenue with his siren blaring. He wheeled into the parking lot and pulled his revolver out of his gun belt and placed it into the temple of the biggest, meanest, slicked-backed, undershirted, baseball bat holder who was waiting at the door of the bus for the Freedom Riders.
“I’ll give ya’ folks five minutes to all clear out of here or I’ll start shooting with this fellow and we will take names later for families,” Mann said.
Mann saved about a dozen Freedom Riders lives that day. They decided to not even exit their bus and to get out of Alabama.
Let me share a great story Mann shared with me.
Mann was destined to be a legendary lawman. He became chief of police of Opelika at 30. One day, one of his officers approached him and said, “Chief, we’ve got a problem you need to know about. You know officer Big Un? About midnight every Saturday night he comes into the station with some little scrawny hobo he has arrested down at the depot. They are always badly beaten up. Big Un weighs about 285 pounds and I just don’t believe these hobos are fool enough to give him any resistance. Big Un is beating these folks up for the fun of it.”
Mann agreed if that was happening he would handle it. The following Saturday night about 30 minutes before the freight train was due in, Mann drove down near the railroad station, parked his car some distance away and hid in the shadows. Sure enough, minutes before the train was to arrive, a police car pulled up and out stepped Big Un with his billy club in hand.
When the train came to a stop, Big Un began walking alongside the freight cars, sliding the doors open looking for hobos. He opened a door and lying right in front of him was a man. Big Un slapped him across the head and ordered him out of the car. The hobo turned ever so slowly and as he did he laid the barrel of a pistol between the eyes of Big Un. The policeman froze in terror.
“Mr. Policeman,” the hobo said slowly, “I’ve got a mama in heaven, a papa in hell and a sick sister in Columbus, Georgia. I aim to see one of them tonight.”
Big Un barely got the words out of his mouth and responded as he retreated, “You tell yo’ sister I hope she gets to feeling better.”
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature and can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.