Lester Garfield Maddox(1915 ~ 2003)
Lester Garfield Maddox was born in Atlanta, GA, in 1915. His parents were Dean and Flonnie Maddox. Although they were in the 1920 census of GA, they were not found in any 1910 or 1900 census.
Georgia in the 1930s
He dropped out of high school to pursue odd jobs. In 1936 he married Virginia Cox. They had four children.
In 1944 he opened a short-order grill in Atlanta that he sold the following year at a profit. He continued with odd jobs in groceries and real estate. Then in 1947 he opened another restaurant and named it the Pickrick. It was cafeteria-style and very popular. He expanded it nine times during the following fifteen years until it would hold 400 diners at once.
In 1949 he began weekly newspaper ads called "Pickrick Says" wherein he advertised his independent political views as much as his restaurant. He often circulated through the restaurant, shaking hands and entertaining customers.
In 1957, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Atlanta. He tried again in 1961 and lost. In 1962 he ran for lieutenant governor of the state and lost that also. In 1964 he federal government ordered him to allow black customers in his restaurant. He employed twenty white and forty black people in his restaurant, but in protest of the federal government telling him what to do, he closed the restaurant for good.
Years later during an interview with Hal Jacobs, he said, "Nobody ever got hit with a pick handle at my restaurant...nobody ever swung anything." Further, he said, "There are two Lester Maddoxes. One created by God ~ one created by the media." He went on to say that if he had believed all the cruel things said about him over the years, he wouldn't have voted for himself either. "It was never solely about race Maddox says; it was about free enterprise.... the little guy who defended his restaurant against the big, bad government."
The article says, "Maddox is slightly bewildered and more than a little ticked. He's always enjoyed his role as political outsider, the thorn int he side, the mouse who stampedes elephants. Maddox has been a burr under the saddles of many Georgians, black and white, ever since he ran for mayor of Atlanta in 1957 and lost, then ran again and lost, then ran for lieutenant governor and lost, then ran for governor in 1966 and ~ to the surprise of everyone but God and Lester Garfield Maddox won."
According to Hosea Williams, former assistant to Martin Luther King Jr, "Lester Maddox did more for black people than any governor in the history of Georgia. He talked that racist talk, but the walk he walked was much different." He lists Maddox's accomplishments, including appointing the first African-American to head a state department (Board of Corrections). He also named the first black GBI agent, the first black state tropper and the first blacks to draft boards.
Professor of history, James Cook, Floyd College in Rome, said in The Governors of Georgia, Maddox is a misunderstood, unique person. He was not as anti-black as it was perceived. He genuinely believed in states' rights. He said Georgia has never had a more unlikely governor. He lacked legal training, a college education, political experience, family prominence, professional distinction, financial backing, military service, inhititions and guile. And, if that was not enough, Prof. Cook added that Maddox was "physically unimpressive."
Outside the home Lester shared with his wife, Virginia, for over fifteen years, were two flagpoles bearing the US and Georgia flag, and a hand-painted sign along the driveway. The first half of the sign read
Thanks be to God he has given me my precious Virginia for 61 years as of May 9 '97
He made the sign for his wife as a welcome home surprise on the day he brought her home from the hospital. She died shortly thereafter. So he added a post script to the sign:
And God took her from me and carried her home 45 days later.
Lester Maddox died in 2003.
The above information obtained from www.artery.org/Maddox, an article by Hal Jacobs reproduced there. Also from www.libs.uga.edu/russell/collections/lmaddox article by Clifford H. Brewton, Press Secretary for Gov. Maddox.