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Gov Lester Maddox

Webmaster's preface:
  Aside from professional ball players named Maddox, Georgia Governor Lester Maddox is probably the most famous US figure of our surname.  To say he was controversial is an understatement.  This man was controversial in Georgia!  To presume his segregationist public stances are an embarrassment to many Maddoxes is also probably safe.  Some found his personal style too open and honest to ignore.  It's not often such outspoken men gain high public office, but happens, as it did in Minnesota.  Maddox's views in his time were politically incorrect in most parts of the country but he had (and doubtless still has) his supporters in Georgia. The fact is, Lester Maddox was a very complex man and in itself, that makes him very interesting.  Most of the national press focused on his segregationist views.  That's virtually all they reported about, because segregation and the racism often associated with it was in the forefront of an America struggling with how to deal with racial attitudes.  His public segregationist views is what made him different among politicians but some describe him as a moderate when it came to the execution of his office.

Following are several articles about the one-time restaurant owner who became a controversial Georgia Governor:

Lester Maddox and the Passing of Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Anne Farrisee, Project Historian
Georgia State University, Department of History

When the flamboyant Lester Maddox ran for the governorship in 1966, neither he nor his Republican opponent "Bo" Calloway received a majority vote. The state Constitution provided for legislative selection to determine the outcome, a controversial method that was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. When the General Assembly finally voted in January 1967, nine of the eleven black legislators refused to vote, but the white Democratic majority was more than enough to elect the maverick candidate. Maddox, an avowed segregationist and outsider to state politics, was jubilant.  He took the oath of office quickly and addressed the General Assembly with a surprisingly reconciliatory speech about benefiting Georgians of both races. As he was leaving the chamber, a portrait of Ellis Arnall outside of the senate chamber hit the marble floor with a crash. No one was near it when it fell.

Maddox proved to be a more capable governor than expected, but his racial stances were stubbornly harsh. When ten of the eleven African American legislators made a courtesy call to his office soon after his appointment, Maddox promised nothing when pressed for specifics about how he would carry out the pledges made in his speech to help all Georgians. Maddox surprised many when he appointed three black women to the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, but there were 110 others on the commission and two of the three blacks had already served under Governor Sanders. This was typical of Maddox; he placed more African Americans onto advisory boards than Sanders, but never into positions of responsibility.

When Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April 1968, city leaders were concerned about the impact of the projected 100,000 mourners congregating in Atlanta. The actions of Maddox and Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., contrasted markedly. As Allen prepared for the funeral, he visited African-American neighborhoods and the SCLC headquarters. He closed City Hall the day of the funeral, ignoring numerous suggestions to ignore the event, and attended the funeral. Maddox refused to close the Capitol, saying "if they [the mourners] do get out of line, it'll be contained.... We're taking every security measure within the means of our resources." State employees were advised to bring their lunch or eat out, since 90% of the black cafeteria workers were expected to take the day off.

The governor was especially furious that the building's state and national flags were being flown at half mast.  Secretary of State Fortson had ordered them lowered after President Johnson had declared a period of mourning. The day before the funeral, Maddox entered Fortson's office and demanded that the secretary have the flags raised. He was politely told to speak with Fortson, who was out of town but could be reached by telephone. Fortson told Maddox that he would raise the flags only if there were an executive order from the governor, thus creating a public record of the source of the decision. Maddox marched out of the Capitol and over to the flagpole outside the main entrance, surrounded by reporters and cameramen from the major television networks. After looking at the pole and its two flags, he walked around the Capitol with his Senate floor leader, telling the press he was "just looking at City Hall, the flag and Mr. Fortson's flowers."

The day of the funeral, Maddox had 2,000 National Guardsmen on call and almost 200 armed state agents in the Capitol. Several cities had already had problems with rioting, and Maddox claimed that he had "been informed by intelligence sources from state and local law enforcement agencies that a group comprised of some revolutionary leftists planned to storm the Capitol."  He warned that any troublemakers "had better come prepared to meet their maker" and placed eight armed men at each entrance to the Capitol. Maddox  personally visited the guards and told them if the marchers stormed the building, to lock and barricade the entrances. And "if they should go so far as to break through the locked doors, then start shooting and don't stop until they are stacked so high above the threshold the followers would be unable to climb over them."

Turnout for the funeral was huge; approximately 200,000 mourners were part of  the procession that passed directly in front of the Capitol. Inside the statehouse "nearly 200 armed state agents roamed the corridors, sat in chairs, stood on steps or stared out windows of the Capitol--160 helmeted troopers and about 40 enforcement officers from other state agencies."

Maddox, who had cleared his schedule for the day, closed the Capitol at 2:00 PM, citing "security reasons." His overreaction revealed "a man bordering on terror." The procession passed by solemnly and the funeral occurred without incident.

Lester Maddox - and the Politics of Populism

Edited by Harold P Henderson and Gary L Roberts
 (excerpted by Webmaster)

Maddox was born and reared in a working class area of Atlanta...he grew up in the typical Southern pattern of Negro residences in alleys behind the white occupied homes, so he grew up on close proximity to blacks and often played with black children.  He worked under the supervision of a Negro man in his first regular job...  Maddox dropped out of high school...obtained a civilian job with the Navy Department (during WWII) and ...clearly was not compatible as an employee. In 1944 he started his first real business--a short order grill, and in 1947, opened the Pickrick Restaurant that would make him famous.  The specialty was good homestyle food, especially fried chicken at moderate prices...in proximity to hungry college students near Georgia Tech.

What brought him to the public eye were his weekly newspaper advertisements headed "Pickrick says."  The homespun messages became explicitly political.  Thanks to the Pickrick ads, Maddox's position as an anti-integration conservative became well known.

Maddox always said he was not racist, he was against integration.  "Just in case some of you Communists, Socialists and other Integrationists have any doubt--The Pickrick will never be Integrated", he wrote.  If you want some fried chicken, it will have to be something other than Pickrick chicken."

He tried twice in runs for Mayor, the first time on a platform of "law and order, but racial considerations clearly dominated his campaign.  Unsuccessful, but gaining support, he ran for lieutenant governor.   Eventually he ran for governor and seemed to be as much interested in espousing his views and he was in winning the office.  Maddox promised that he would chase Martin Luther King, Jr. out of the state and invite George Wallace in.  He pledged that he would rather raise taxes than accept the integration guidelines that accompanied federal school aid.  He also talked about better education, industrial recruitment, prison reform, but it was Lester Maddox, the defiant segregationist that his constituency wanted to hear.

Maddox's campaign was a shoestring affair contrasting markedly with the well financed efforts (of the others.)  He ... tirelessly covered the state in his own station wagon, indefatigably shaking hands, and tacking up small "Maddox Country" posters. Said Maddox, "By running for governor, I can bring to the people of Georgia a program of truth, patriotism, and Americanism...I think we can benefit both our Negro and our white citizens with a program of truth, patriotism, and Americanism"

The end result was that no candidate won a majority sufficient for election, and after a Supreme Court ruling, Maddox was chosen as Governor of Georgia by the state legislature--not by election of the people.  Many, especially blacks  were devastated after he won the legislative vote which was lopsided to the Democratic side.  He won, 182 to 66.

Maddox rushed into the governor's office quickly to take the oath of office before any legal papers blocking his ascendancy could be filed.

Some wondered if he was a "new" Maddox, but he was not...it was just that the new governor had two sides.  He could give moderate speeches just as he could engage in demagoguery.  He had given lost of calm, sane talks during the campaign urging improvements in education, mental heath, prisons, and tourism but they had not attracted media attention like his more outrageous statements had.

Maddox was truly different from the typical governor.  For one thing, he was an outsider who lacked a formal education.  He was somewhat defensive (about that) but he said "I hold a degree in hard work and a master's degree in self-reliance...I am now at work on a doctorate thesis called 'excellence in State Government.' "

Maddox gave healthy raises to state teachers and substantial increases in funding for the university system, exceeding those of his education-minded predecessors.   After (his) first year in office Newsweek said that he was "fast emerging as America's leading political anti-hero...His style is pure populist."

In 1968, Maddox supported George Wallace for president and for a time declared himself as a presidential candidate when Herbert Humphrey's candidacy became imminent.  Maddox was not, of course, popular with liberals and blacks and some others, but a 1968 poll showed that his standing with Georgians was generally good (68 percent saying he was doing an "excellent" or "pretty good" job).  Only on the question concerning dignity and ability in office did less than a majority (47 pct) rate their governor excellent or good.

Maddox's relations with the legislature were strained.  At one point he told them to go home and "listen to the people."   At another, he threatened to resign if they didn't pass his programs.   For all his social and racial conservatism, Maddox was often more willing to spend money on the state's education, mental health, and welfare needs than was the legislature.

The Maddox that people remember often associated with (John) Birchers and Klansmen and other disciples of hate, and his rhetoric no doubt sometimes fanned that hatred.  Yet Lester Maddox did not seem to be hateful.  His deep religious faith allowed him to hate the sin but not the sinner.  Of course, to Maddox, racial integration was an sin.  Welfare loafing was a sin.  Rioting was a sin.  On the other hand, he truly did want to help those who, like himself came from impoverished backgrounds.  Clearly he did think it was time that the state cleaned up its scandalous prison camps.  Without a doubt, he wanted to make sure that Georgia children could get a good education that he never got.  Everett Wiltner, who gave up a US House seat rather than run on the same ticket with Maddox, admitted later, "He really is for the poor folks, and when you do things for the poor folks, it involves black people."

His sincerity was not in question.  His honesty was not assailed.  His desire to serve his state well within the limits of his vision was not doubted, and many other Georgians of his day shared that same flawed vision.  So many shared it that they overwhelmingly elected him lieutenant governor in 1970.  By 1974, however, the magic of the Pickrick had finally evaporated and he lost  in his bid to return to the governorship.  Georgia seemed to be ready to leave overtly racial politics behind.

Maddox himself was proud of his accomplishments and he acknowledges he was held in scorn and contempt by media leaders around the country.  Said Maddox, "it seemed all one had to do to get coverage was to attack Lester Maddox."  As an example of what the media thought of Maddox, the Atlanta Constitution wrote: "Maddox's extremism is known throughout the nation.  If he should win, it would make mockery of the state's motto, 'Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.'  Maddox is altogether unequipped by experience or knowledge to handle the duties of governor."

In an article he wrote about his political career, Maddox did not stress his segregationist views that caught national attention and support from so many Georgians as he ran for office.  Instead, he pointed to the other things, especially his battle against federal incursion into business and state affairs.  He had strongly fought them from when he gained notoriety as he ran the Pickrick and then throughout his public career).  He point with pride to his accomplishments as governor--accomplishments he says the press never gave him, to include wide-ranging increases for schools and teachers,  university research, new money for expanding industry, cleaning up the Georgia penal system, protecting Georgia's environment from big industry, and cleaning up the government from graft and corruption.   (Maddox didn't hesitate to call a crook, a crook) and he took a great deal of pride in cleaning up state government by getting rid of political influence and deadwood.  He sought to open up the state government and he did, including the Governor's office itself.


Maddox, especially devoted to his wife - and marriage

He was 16 when they met, she was two years younger. For 61 years they were husband and wife.  When his wife Virginia passed away last year, a grief-stricken Lester Maddox resolved to work to keep other marriages together. The 82-year-old former Georgia governor launched a one-man campaign, taking out newspaper ads to convince couples to stick to their vows.  Said an ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
 "DEAR MOMS & DADS. Help Save Lives, Families and U.S.A.   STAY MARRIED."
 "If I can save one family and it doesn't cost but a few thousand dollars, then it's worth it," Maddox said.  Maddox met his wife when he was selling soft drinks and candy in his front yard. She rode her bicycle by his house, trying to attract his attention. Three years later, when she was 17, they were married.
Lester & Virginia Maddox Bridge - June 2, 1999. Senator Steve Thompson, left, who authored the resolution, presents the resolution certificate to former Governor Lester Maddox. Maddox wanted his wife's name included in the resolution because of her contributions to his life and to the people of Georgia. During the ceremony, he kissed a portrait of his late wife who died in 1997. 


  1   Dean Maddox (his father) +Flonnie (unkn, his mother)
....   2   Howard Maddox    bef. 1915 -
....    2   Lester Garfield Maddox  30 Sep 1915 -25 Jun 2003    .  Atlanta
...... married  Hattie Virginia Cox    1917 - 1997,  in 1936, Marrietta, GA
...... 3   Linda Maddox    abt. 1937 -
...... 3   Virginia "Ginny" Maddox abt. 1940 -
...... 3   Lester Garfield Maddox, Jr. abt 1944 -
...... 3   Larry Maddox, abt.1947 -
...    2   Wesley Maddox   , aft.1916 -

Everything is Pickrick - Maddox on his racial attitude

Excerpted from his biography "Everything is Pickrick: The Life of  Lester Maddox, by Bob Short, published 1999 Mercer University Press, 6316 Peake Road, Macon, GA 31210-3960.  ISBN 0-86554-662-2.

When the interviewer said:  "You're a segregationist and not a racist".  He answered "Amen."  He said "You know what I think a segregationist is?"  "Someone who has racial pride and racial integrity that want their races preserved and the races of other people preserved.  "My segregation includes opposition to amalgamation, which would wipe out the races.  My fight at the Pickrick was for the right of private property, the right of free enterprise for every human being in this country.  The same position the Supreme Court had taken and all the presidents."

When asked:  "Deep down in your heart and soul, how do you feel about black people?"  His response:  "I feel that they're a part of the human race and I'm proud of them when they succeed.  Or white people, or orientals, when they are productive and law-abiding and I am opposed to them when they waste their lives and follow the will of a socialistic government that makes failures out of people who otherwise would be producers."

Last Segregationist Governor Dies

Contradictory character defied change, labels

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 26, 2003

At last year's Fourth of July festivities at the Marietta town square, Lester Maddox, the former Georgia governor and lifelong segregationist, was invited to the podium.  Dressed in a seersucker suit in the stifling heat and carrying a framed photo of his beloved late wife, Virginia, Maddox was asked to play the national anthem.

Maddox, equal parts showman and politician, produced a harmonica from his pocket. Then he stepped up to the microphone and played "Dixie."  It was classic Maddox -- a defiant, quirky man who refused to change with the times.

Maddox, 87, died early Wednesday morning after years of battling diseases ranging from cancer to intestinal ailments. The end came at an Atlanta hospice after he developed pneumonia following a fall that broke two ribs.  The funeral will be 2 p.m. Friday at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, with visitation at 5 p.m. today at H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Home, Spring Hill Chapel. Maddox will lie in state Friday morning in the state Capitol rotunda.

Many Georgians struggled for words to sum up the enigmatic, often contradictory man with the big ears, thick eyeglasses and big political plans that often crashed almost as quickly as they took flight.

"Maddox's election as governor marked the end of an old era . . . that needed to be put behind us," said U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), who hails from Maddox's adopted Cobb County. "He will be remembered by those who knew and loved him as a dedicated family man, a loving husband, an honest businessman and a loyal friend."

Maddox tapped into white fear and resentment at a time when the federal government forced seismic social changes on a reluctant region. The government had court rulings and judges willing to enforce them. Maddox, a high school dropout, had fiery rhetoric and a sharp wit.

His words often seemed at odds with his deeds. He blasted the news media, but reveled in the spotlight. He blatantly played the race card to win votes, but appointed more African-Americans to state government positions than any segregation-era governor before him. Twice a month, Maddox would open the doors of the governor's office to what he called "the little people," listening to the problems of all who entered.

He disliked liberals, smoking and drinking. He warbled bird calls and rode a bicycle backward in parades. And he worshiped his wife of 61 years, installing a billboard to her memory outside his east Cobb home.

Maddox was governor from 1967-71. Something of a political fluke, he was elected not by the voters but by a majority of the Legislature. He took office less than three years after he became a national symbol of segregation for chasing away blacks trying to integrate his Pickrick restaurant.

'Mixed feelings'

Unlike the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who apologized for his segregationist past, Maddox never did. But Maddox insisted that though he was against forced integration, he was not a racist.

Robert Hightower, appointed by Maddox as Georgia's first black state trooper, said he considered the former governor a close friend as the years passed. "He made it possible for me to live my childhood dream," Hightower said. "He opened the doors for people of color to enter state government."

Many African-Americans disagreed with that assessment. "There were some good things he did, but he was overshadowed by his racist, segregationist stand," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. "He refused to bend."

William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, said Maddox represented the "mixed feelings" blacks and whites in the South shared about each other.

"Certainly, he was a segregationist and appeared to believe in the supremacy of whites," Boone said. "But I think, at the same time, there was that kind of feeling that whites should treat blacks in a certain way -- if not necessarily as equals, then certainly in a way that gave some credence to their humanity."

Maddox was a footnote in the overall story of the civil rights movement in the South, said Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist who specializes in Southern politics.

"He was eclipsed by George Wallace in the 1960s and by Jimmy Carter in the '70s," Black said. "In terms of importance, he was limited to his impact in Georgia from 1966 to 1970 or so."

An Energetic Mind

Born Sept. 30, 1915, in Atlanta, Maddox's early life was a struggle with poverty. He sold newspapers and peanuts on the streets. During the Depression, he wore shoes patched with cardboard.

After his father lost his job and the family's home, Maddox dropped out of Tech High School to work full-time. He was a $4-a-week drugstore soda jerk, a delivery boy, an apprentice dental technician and a stock boy at a jewelers' supply house.

He had an energetic mind and entrepreneurial spirit. He set up a vending stand in his front yard, selling soft drinks and penny candy. In 1945, with $400 in savings, Maddox opened Lester's Grill, a combination short-order diner and general store at 14th and State streets. Two years later, he started the Pickrick restaurant near Georgia Tech.

It was at the Pickrick, known for its fried chicken, that Maddox mingled with customers and began to nurture his political ambitions. By 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that segregated education was unconstitutional. White discomfort grew as the civil rights revolution moved into full gear.

Maddox's early ventures into the political arena as a hard-right conservative were failures. In his first campaign, for mayor of Atlanta in 1957, he lost to incumbent William B. Hartsfield. He lost to Ivan Allen Jr. in 1961 in a racially charged mayoral contest. In 1962, he finished second to Peter Zack Geer, another segregationist, in a field of nine seeking to be lieutenant governor.

In a 1968 biography, "The Riddle of Lester Maddox," author Bruce Galphin wrote that Maddox earned notoriety as the head of GUTS -- Georgians Unwilling To Surrender -- a statewide pro-segregation organization.

Maddox said at an early meeting of the group that there was no place in the organization for "any person who has hate in his heart for any man, race or creed." But a month later, he said if blacks didn't stop sit-ins, he would urge white employers to fire black employees. Still, he was dismayed by some of the people GUTS attracted, including neo-Nazis: "We're not anti-Jew. We're not anti-Negro, at least I'm not. We're anti-forced integration."

In the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act desegregating public accommodations, three black people sought to integrate the Pickrick. They were met by Maddox, holding a pistol, and friends wielding ax handles. The incident made Maddox a nationwide symbol and a hero to segregationists. Rather than integrate, Maddox closed his restaurant and ran for governor as a no-compromise segregationist. Former Gov. Ellis Arnall led in the Democratic primary but did not win a majority as required by a 1964 law. In a runoff election, Maddox won a huge political upset over Arnall.

In the general election, Howard "Bo" Callaway received 453,665 votes to 450,626 for Maddox. But there were 45,603 write-in votes for Arnall, meaning Callaway did not get a majority of votes cast. The election was turned over to the Democrat-dominated state Legislature, which on Jan. 10, 1967, selected Maddox as governor by a vote of 192-66.

Maddox's term was free of political corruption, and some critics discovered that he showed he cared for people and their problems. Four black escapees from a South Georgia work camp paid a surprise visit to Maddox at the Governor's Mansion and he listened to their complaints, ordering an investigation of the state's prisons. He got teachers a 25 percent pay raise and took on local corruption in South Georgia's Long County, ordering billboards erected that warned drivers of speed traps.

"He fooled everybody with the quality of his leadership," said state Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, who managed Maddox's first campaign for governor. "He looked at each issue on its merits, people on their merits. He did not have a color line."

Maddox named 38 African-Americans to local draft boards when only two had ever been appointed before. He appointed the first black member to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and hired the first black state trooper. But he appointed few if any black people to positions of great prominence or power.

Battles and Beliefs

Maddox never shed his beliefs in racial separation, anti-communism and moral absolutes. He banned miniskirts in the Capitol and insisted that male members of his staff have their hair cut above their ears.

He seemed to delight in his constant battles with the news media, once torching a copy of The Atlanta Constitution. His official portrait, which hangs at the Capitol, features a likeness of his wife, two peaches and a copy of The Constitution wrapped around a fish.

Barred from succeeding himself in 1970 -- under a state law since changed -- Maddox considered running his wife for governor, as Wallace had done in Alabama four years earlier. Instead, he became the first Georgia governor to seek the office of lieutenant governor.

He was elected lieutenant governor for the 1971-75 term and plotted a second run for governor in 1974. He lost to a racial moderate, state Sen. George Busbee.

Maddox tried a final, long-shot comeback in the 1990 governor's race, finishing last in a five-man field. Times had changed and Maddox had not. In 1976, Maddox ran for president as the candidate of the American Independent Party. He urged Democrats not to vote for Carter, who was elected president. Maddox got 117,000 votes. His political days all but over, and saddled with campaign debts, Maddox reopened the Pickrick restaurant and a souvenir shop in Underground Atlanta.

Maddox briefly tried his hand at professional show business, creating an act he dubbed "The Governor and the Dishwasher." It featured Maddox playing harmonica and a black former Pickrick kitchen worker named Bobby Lee Fears playing guitar. They toured New York and Miami, but the act never caught on.  "I'm supposed to be a tough guy," Fears, 60, said Wednesday. "I saw my father killed. But, earlier, when I got the news [about Maddox's death], I cried. I don't usually cry about nothing."  Maddox's later years were marked by ill health.

"Life has been great, and I'm living off precious memories now and what God has promised me for the future," Maddox said in an interview just before Christmas 2001. "I thank God for every breath and heartbeat."

Staff writers Nancy Badertscher, Tom Baxter, Carlos Campos, Rhonda Cook, Mary MacDonald, Bill Montgomery and Kay Powell contributed to this article. Information from The Associated Press also was used.