Lester G. Maddox Biographical FileLester G. Maddox Biographical File

Lester G. Maddox Biographical File

Descriptive Summary

Title: Lester G. Maddox Biographical File
Creator: Maddox, Lester G., 1915-2003.
Dates: 1990-1999
Extent: 1.0 folder
Collection Number: RBRL/224/LGM
Repository: Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies
Abstract: The file contains writings by Maddox expressing his grief over the death of his wife, Virginia; writings relating to his term as governor of Georgia; his last "State of the State Address"; prints of Lester and Virginia Maddox; a booklet on the construction of the Lester and Virginia Maddox Bridge over the Chattahoochee River on I-75; and information on the Board of Regents' budget increase between 1967 and 1971.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Lester G. Maddox was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on 30 September 1915, to Dean and Flonnie Maddox. He was educated in the Fulton County public school system but dropped out of high school in order to pursue a career (either “to start working” or “to pursue a career in something”). In 1936, he married Virginia Cox and the couple eventually had four children. In 1944, Maddox opened a short order grill in Atlanta that he sold a year later at a profit. Maddox continued to hold jobs in the grocery business and real estate until 1947 when he opened a restaurant, the Pickrick. Maddox achieved great success with the Pickrick and expanded it nine times over the course of fifteen years. His business was bolstered by clever advertisements, entitled “Pickrick Says,” that ran in Atlanta newspapers. After the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education school desegregation ruling, Maddox’s advertisements became more political, earning him greater notoriety.

Maddox’s outspoken response to desegregation led him to enter politics. In 1957, he campaigned for mayor of Atlanta as an independent, anti-integrationist candidate. Maddox lost the election. Four years later, in 1961, he once again lost his bid for the mayor’s office. Maddox faced his third defeat in 1962, after running for lieutenant governor. Although his campaigns were not successful, they made him a well-known figure in Georgia.

It was Maddox’s open defiance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that thrust him into the national spotlight. Not only did Maddox refuse to serve three black students in his restaurant, but he also chased them out with a gun while his customers wielded axe handles. He contended that both his business and property were being threatened. The students sued Maddox. The court ruled that Maddox had to desegregate the Pickrick within twenty days. Rather than accept the ruling and integrate his restaurant, Maddox closed the Pickrick.

In October 1965, he announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. True to his reputation, Maddox ran a grassroots campaign; his platform supported segregation and opposed federal encroachment on state and individual rights. Maddox came in second to Ellis Arnall in the Democratic primary and defeated Arnall in the runoff. In the General Election, the Republican candidate, Howard “Bo” Callaway, received more votes but fell short of the majority due to a write-in campaign for Arnall. Therefore, the General Assembly determined the election and selected Maddox on the first ballot. The new governor was sworn in on 10 January 1967.

It was during Maddox’s term that the newly independent legislature came to dominate the state government. They found in their governor an executive who believed in legislative independence. However, Maddox was able to increase funding for the university system as well as state teachers salaries. He attempted to raise money for state education, welfare and mental health with a one-cent sales tax, but could not push it through the state legislature. Maddox succeeded in passing funding for much needed prison reforms that included upgrading fire and health standards, training for guards, and improved living conditions and treatment for inmates.

While Maddox appointed many African Americans during his term in office, he did not give any of them positions of great power or responsibility. He continued to be an outspoken opponent of school desegregation and specifically, the transportation of students to schools to achieve integration mandates. He encouraged private segregated schools and favored freedom of choice in schools rather than strict segregation. Maddox was a staunch supporter of the U.S. war in Vietnam because he feared expansion of communism abroad. At home, he continued to warn Georgians of the ever-present threat of communist and socialist influences.

On 17 August 1968, Maddox announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president, but withdrew before any ballots were cast. He resigned rather than compromise on the number of African-American delegates from Georgia. In 1970, Maddox once again gained national attention. While in Washington, D.C., testifying against the strengthening of the Voting Rights Bill, Maddox passed out souvenir axe handles in a U.S. House of Representatives restaurant. This led to a confrontation between the governor and an African-American congressman from Michigan, Charles Diggs, Jr.

Since the Georgia constitution barred him from seeking consecutive terms as governor, Maddox was unable to run for that office again. He attempted to have the law overturned, but was unsuccessful. In order to remain in politics, Maddox ran for lieutenant governor and won in 1970, making him the first former governor to become lieutenant governor. During his term, Maddox clashed regularly with Governor Jimmy Carter, whom he felt was too liberal. In 1974, he ran against George Busbee for governor and lost. Maddox continued to be active in politics and in 1976, the former governor ran for president as the American Independent Party candidate. Many saw his campaign as an expression of his opposition to and dissatisfaction with his political rival, Jimmy Carter, also a candidate for president in 1976. Maddox lost this election as well, receiving only 170,000 votes. After this campaign, Maddox stayed out of politics until 1990, when he made his last bid for political office. On 25 January 1990, he made a formal announcement from the State Capitol that he would once again run for governor of Georgia. Maddox ran a small, grass-roots campaign and lost the Democratic primary with only three percent of the vote.

After exiting from the political scene, Maddox spent most of his time at home in Marietta, Georgia, caring for his wife, Virginia, who died on 24 June 1997. Lester Maddox died in an Atlanta hospice on 25 June 2003.

Scope and Content

The file contains writings by Maddox expressing his grief over the death of his wife, Virginia; writings relating to his term as governor; his last “State of the State Address”; prints of Lester and Virginia Maddox; a booklet on the construction of the Lester and Virginia Maddox Bridge over the Chattahoochee River on I-75; and information on the Board of Regents' budget increase between 1967 and 1971.

Organization and Arrangement

Materials are arranged chronologically.


Administrative Information and Restrictions

Preferred Citation

Lester G. Maddox Biographical File, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia, 30602-1641.

User Restrictions

Library acts as "fair use" reproduction agent.

Copyright Information

Before material from collections at the Richard B. Russell Library may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in the Russell Library collection should consult the Director. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Finding Aid Publication

Finding aid prepared by Russell staff, 2008.


Related Materials

Access Points

Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Georgia--Politics and government--1951-
Georgia. Office of the Lieutenant Governor.
Governors--Georgia--Election.
Maddox, Lester G., 1915-2003.
Presidents--United States--Election--1968.
University System of Georgia. Board of Regents.

Related Collections in this Repository

Clifford Hodges Brewton Collection of Lester G. Maddox Speech/Press Research Files

Thomas Gresham Collection of Lester G. Maddox Speeches/Press Files

Related Collections in Other Repositories

Georgia Government Documentation Project, Series A: Georgia Governors oral history collection. Georgia State University

Papers: Gubernatorial Papers, Georgia Archives

Papers: Lieutenant Governor, Georgia Archives


Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

Folder
1Writings by Maddox expressing his grief over the death of his wife, Virginia; writings relating to his term as governor; his last “State of the State Address”; prints of Lester and Virginia Maddox; a booklet on the construction of the Lester and Virginia Maddox Bridge over the Chattahoochee River on I-75; and information on the Board of Regents' budget increase between 1967 and 1971