Lester Maddox served as governor
and lieutenant governor
. He attempted to run for governor again in 1975, but lost the primaries
. He then ran on the American Independent Party
ticket for US President
. Previous to his political stint, he was a businessman in Georgia who owned a cafeteria
, the Pickrick
. He is best known for his racist
views, particularly since his time as governor of Georgia was during integration
and the assassination
of Martin Luther King Jr.
He was a running joke
in the northeast throughout the 60's and 70's and even somewhat of a joke in his own state.
His advertisements for the Pickrick in the Atlanta Constitution (the local newspaper) carried "Pickrick says" messages from him, espousing his political views. He became much more vocal after public schools were desegregated in 1954. He ran as an independent candidate for mayor of Atlanta in 1957, 1961, and 1962, pushing himself further in the public eye.
When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Maddox refused to desegregate his cafeteria. Three black students attempted to enter the Pickrick and were chased out by a gun-wielding Maddox and customers he had given axe handles. He was ordered by the courts to integrate the restaurant within twenty days, but instead closed the Pickwick down.
Maddox ran for governor again in 1965, this time securing the Democratic nomination. His platform in was a laundry list of racist Old South views. Probably due to the tumultuous times, he did secure nomination and won the primaries. However, in the General Election the republican candidate got the most votes but did not get the majority due to a write-in campaign for Democrat Ellis Arnall, whom Maddox had already defeated in the primaries. The Geogia Constitution stipulated that the state legislature elect the governor under these circumstances. The Democrats controlled the General Assembly at the time, and elected Maddox by a good margin. The decision was held, but was taken all the way to the Supreme Court.
Maddox was considered a good Governor, but he was ultimately elected by the legislature because he was out in left field most of the time and easy to control. He attempted to raise the quality of life in Georgia with several bills, but he faced a good deal of opposition from the legislature. Most of the time he just ran his mouth, but he did increase funding to education and the university system. More importantly, he was willing to slowly compromise on his ideals, easing Georgia's transition to equality.
Maddox's views beyond racism were just wacky. During his time as governor, a little town called Ludowici had reached infamy as a speed trap. You simply couldn't drive through the one-stoplight-town without getting a ticket. So Maddox ordered that signs be put up around the town that would want people they were entering a speed trap and to drive around it. Many people suggested this was simply revenge because he himself had sped through Ludowici before being elected to office.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Maddox did his best to ignore the event. He did not close the Capitol in mourning, and did not attend the funeral. The Georgia Secretary of State had put the flags at half mast, and Maddox told him to raise them back up privately, but the Secretary refused to do so without an official public order from him. Knowing that this would cause too much controversy, Maddox backed down. He called up 2,000 National Guardsmen to guard the Capitol on the day of the funeral. In case of a riot, he ordered them to kill.
When Maddox's term ended in 1971, he was forbidden to run for governor again by the Georgia Constitution, but he ran for Lieutenant Governor and won. He was the first Georgian Governor to do so. He served under future president Jimmy Carter. Carter and he absolutely hated each other and fought over nearly every issue.
Maddox attempted to run for Governor again but lost the primaries in 1974. When Carter ran for President in 1976 on the Democratic ticket, Maddox decided to run against him under the American Independent Party ticket. This curious act got him less than 1% of the vote.
He later opened a store in Atlanta Underground and sold pickaxe handles, watches, and other trinkets. He also had a syndicated sitcom called The Governor and the Dishwasher with a former dishwasher from the Pickrick, Bobby Lee Fears. He currently owns Buckner's, a restaurant in Jackson, GA.
Most Georgians are embarassed by him but recently due to the biography Everything's Pickrick by a former press secretary, some people have started to see a kinder, gentler Maddox. One who was "segregationalist" but not "racist." And he was only segregationalist because he wanted the right to do with his private enterprise as he chose. And he never aimed a gun at anyone, well, maybe one, but it was all a joke. Personally, I have as much respect for backwards segregationalists who would like to ban black people from eating in their establishments because they can (or can't) as I do for the Grand Dragon, but of course you should make your own decision.
Everything is Pickrick: The Life of Lester Maddox, Bob Short. 1999. Mercer Univ Pr.