Lester Maddox

From Academic Kids

Lester Garfield Maddox (September 30, 1915June 25, 2003) was an American Democratic Party politician who was Governor of the U.S. state of Georgia from 1967 to 1971. He initially came to prominence as a staunch segregationist but, like many Southern Democrats, he moderated his positions somewhat when it became clear that the gains of the civil rights movement were not going to be rolled back by political means, peaceful or otherwise.

Lester Maddox was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He dropped out of school and took a correspondence course, ultimately opening the "Pickrick" restaurant on Hemphill Avenue off the Georgia Tech campus. This restaurant soon became a thriving business that was popular for its fine food, homey atmosphere and low prices. Maddox made the restaurant a family affair with his wife and children working with him. He smartly used the local newspapers to advertise his restaurant along with his homey political philosophies. He armed his white customers with pick handles to use as weapons against any blacks that might seek service, and in later years sold pick handles as souvenirs.

He entered politics, running twice for Mayor of Atlanta and once for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, losing each time.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which required integration of public facilities, passed, he sold the restaurant rather than integrate it. It should be noted, however, that Maddox did this not out of bigotry or hatred, but out of protest that big government was interfering with the private sector and the small businessman. Many of his fellow citizens praised him for doing this.

In 1966, Maddox sought the Democratic Party nomination for Governor of Georgia. His principal opponent for the nomination was former governor Ellis Arnall. In the primary election, Arnall won a plurality of the popular vote, but was denied the required majority because a small number of votes went to an obscure state senator named Jimmy Carter. Arnall barely campaigned in the run-off election, and the result was a surprising victory for Maddox.

Stunned, Arnall announced a write-in candidacy for the general election. In that contest, Republican nominee Howard Callaway won a plurality and Maddox finished second; under the election rules then in effect, the state legislature was required to select a governor from the two candidates with the highest number of votes. With the legislature overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats, Maddox became Governor, serving from 1967 to 1971.

Although Maddox campaigned as a segregationist, he governed as a moderate, and appointed more blacks to state government office than any of his predecessors. He also was noted for his off-the-cuff manner: when asked what actions could be taken to improve the abysmal conditions in Georgia prisons, Maddox replied that what was really needed was a better class of prisoner. Maddox's chief of staff was Zell Miller, who himself was elected governor in 1990.

Under the Georgia constitution of 1945, he was prohibited from running for a second consecutive term, so in 1970 he ran for Lieutenant Governor and won, Jimmy Carter being elected Governor in the same election. Maddox ran again for governor in 1974 but lost in the Democratic primary to Carl Sanders: when Carter ran for President in 1976, Maddox ran against him as the nominee of the American Independent Party, but got few votes.

His political career over, he had a short-lived nightclub comedy career with a black man he had pardoned from jail while he was governor. They called themselves "The Governor and the Dishwasher." Maddox also ran a furniture business and other ventures that were not as lucrative as the Pickrick.

Maddox was diagnosed with cancer in 1983, but made a successful recovery and was a visible figure in his home community of Cobb County, Georgia through his mid eighties. He had intestinal surgery not long before he died of pneumonia in an Atlanta hospice.

Lester Maddox and his wife Virginia were married for sixty one years. At Maddox's home, a prominent landmark was a sign he had made that said "Praise the Good Lord for giving me my precious Virginia".

External link

  • Lester! (http://www.southerncurrents.com/misc/maddox.htm) from Creative Loafing, March 20, 1999 (with link to his personal rebuttal to the article)
Preceded by:
Carl E. Sanders
Governors of Georgia Succeeded by:
James E. Carter, Jr.
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