May 1979: Man shot at Klan rally; Parrish High burns


A 24-year-old black club owner was shot in the head at a Ku Klux Klan rally held in Carbon Hill on May 6, 1979.

John McCollum was described as a spectator in the Daily Mountain Eagle's report of the incident the following day. The paper also noted that McCollum had managed the A's Club in Carbon Hill until the council informed him earlier that year that it could no longer operate as a private club because of past problems.  

Roger Dale Patmon, 34, of Birmingham, was quickly released on $750 bond after being arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder.  

Don Black, Alabama grand dragon of the Knights of the KKK, said Patmon had acted in self-defense. McCollum had been harassing about 30 Klansmen who were distributing literature in Carbon Hill and had fired three times at Patmon when approached, according to Black.

A warrant in which McCollum was also charged with assault with intent to murder was served upon his release from the hospital.

Carbon Hill Police Chief Lucky Hobson immediately established a 9 p.m. curfew in the city that remained in effect until May 14. Carbon Hill High's prom and local softball games were among the events cancelled because of the curfew.

The shooting was mentioned in a May 15, 1979, article from The New York Times headlined "Newly resurgent Klan in Alabama is closely watched by U.S. agents." Several federal indictments had recently been handed down against Alabama Klansmen on charges ranging from shooting into the homes of black people to impersonating an F.B.I. agent, according to the article.

In 1981, McCollum was awarded $16,000 in damages in U.S. District Court. McCollum, then a resident of Illinois, had been seeking $600,000 in damages. The judge also dismissed 10 defendants, which included members of the Carbon Hill City Council and police department, from the civil suit. Attorney Morris Savage had argued that the defendants had no knowledge that the rally was going to be held and that McCollum's attorneys had not presented sufficient evidence that the town had failed to provide adequate police protection.

McCollum said that he felt personally threatened by the rally because he had heard the Klan was marching because of his relationship with a white woman. According to McCollum, Patmon walked in front of his car with a 12-gauge shotgun and fired twice into the windshield after telling him to get out of the vehicle and saying he was "going to teach him a lesson."

Patmon testified that he had been a member of the KKK for two weeks when he arrived to serve as security and that no one affiliated with the rally knew he was coming.

According to Patmon, the rally began with a procession through a predominantly black community of Carbon Hill and ended on Highway 78. The rally was ending when he noticed McCollum parked at a service station and holding a gun out of his window. Though Patmon and several witnesses said that McCollum shot first, a ballistics expert testified that the first of eight shots fired through the windshield had come from the shotgun.

In other news from May 1979, Parrish High School burned on May 16, four days before the end of the school year. "Why couldn't it have waited four more days?" a Parrish senior was overheard saying as he surveyed the ruins.

The blaze started at about 7:45 p.m. in the attic at the south end of the school, according to preliminary reports. 

Parrish High was the fourth county school to burn in three years and the second in two months. Union Chapel Jr. High had burned in April. Parrish Elementary and Bankhead School in Cordova had burned the previous September.

"This has a tremendous impact on the whole system," said county schools Superintendent Joe Cunningham. "It paralyzes the maintenance department and is very expensive and deprives the students of so many hours of instruction."

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.