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As I wrote earlier chasing black people out his restaurant with an axe made Lester Maddox a hero to racists everywhere. He ran for governor. None of the candidates achieved the majority required under Georgia law. So it went to the state lawmakers. Maddox like almost ever politician in the South between Lincoln and Reagan was a Democrat. And he was such a dope the politicians thought he'd be easy to control. They made him governor.
But dopes have opinions and can be pretty stubborn about them. But he didn't have the political skills to get anything done and Georgia government in many ways went on hiatus.
I have a pet theory that beneath the veneer imposed by socialization the average person has beliefs that are mightily batty. I don't mean ugliness like racism. Have you even been talking with someone at a bus stop or checkout line and as you listened you realized that they know little about how the world works: government, the entertainment industry, most everything. But they form opinions involuntarily like air rushing to fill a vacuum. Secular superstition. Put someone who isn't reflexively conformist in a position of freedom and the results are apt to be unexpected.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated he ordered the Secretary of State to raised the flags that had been flags that had been lowered in King's honor (the Secretary refused). But Maddox gave more money for education than anyone else in the state ever had. His summary of the problems of state prisoners was that Georgia had low class inmates
Lester and the Georgia speed trap
Lester Goes to Ludowici was a song written about his most entertaining accomplishment. Ludowici, GA was the most corrupt town in Georgia. You couldn't drive through it without getting a ticket and being forced to pay a fine. Maddox put signs up on all the roads and highways leading to the town warning people to change their route and not drive into the county. That put a big dent in their graft.
Georgia governors were not allowed to succeed themselves. He ran for Lieutenant Governor and won overwhelmingly. The governor was Jimmy Carter. But after four years he was able to run again. I was doing political polling that year. It was clear that he'd never win. Even people who liked him felt he made the state look like "the ass hole of the nation." While governor he'd ridden his bicycle backward at a major football game. That left even conservative Georgians embarrassed by him.
Later he opened a restaurant and gift shop in Underground Atlanta, a tourist ghetto. He sold souvenir axe-handles. Later with a dishwasher from the restaurant he had a syndicated sitcom, The Governor and the Dishwasher. It fizzled. Last I heard he was alive and doing well on a macrobiotic diet.*
He wasn't a racist as you think of them. He was a segregationist. Politically the distinction is meaningless. In an individual of Maddox's time it separates a malignant man from a misguided one. Possibly the best testimony for Lester's basic decency is that he is much admired by Hosea Williams, Atlanta's most outrageous and often radical black politician.
"Jungle bunny schools"
He never got more than a thousand votes** but J.B. Stoner was the real racist who ran for governor. His TV commercial stunned me. Dixie was playing, there was a big Confederate flag in the background. The man was shouting that he was going to "clean up the jungle bunny schools" and "ship them all back to Africa." The commercial was followed with the statement that by law the TV station could not refuse Stoner time. The Savannah Morning News placed something similar next to his print ads. Many years later he was jailed for blowing up a black church.
Shortly after moving to a new house I found a copy of his newspaper, The Thunderbolt on our lawn. The depth of hatred, the fantastic and bizarre opinions of classes of people was an instant education in nastiness.
Much of it was the almost parody stuff about Jewish bankers and the Trilateral Commission's secret control of the nation's destiny. There was an article claiming to prove that black people were descended from chickens. There was even a faked photo of an African tribesman with chicken feet. Who could be so ignorant to believe that?
A couple of years later a communist acquaintance that collected hate literature showed me something similar. It was an issue of the magazine published by "American Fuehrer" George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party. Most of the contents were the same wearisome weird drivel about Jewish conspiracies. But there was a comic strip; starring White man I think his name was. He fought the "Jew from Outer Space" who created the "Super Nigger." A big laugh riot for the pathetic fools who read the magazine I guess.
Anti-Semitism was something I'd only read about in books. Savannah had a Jewish mayor in the 1950s and many citywide high school dances were held at a synagogue. The racism was mostly buried. Almost every black neighborhood abutted a white one. I dimly recall a civil rights protest going on outside my house when we lived downtown. I was probably six.
It became more visible with school busing. Having to leave the school building because of bomb threats for about an hour became common (we all thought it was a treat). But things were never remotely as violent as Boston in the 70s. Parents complained about the extra time their kids spent on buses. Mostly it was accepted. Black Muslims were on the main street selling Muhammad Speaks (Elijah Muhammad was Louis Farrakhan's predecessor as the head of the Nation of Islam). No one ever bothered them. As far as I could tell Savannah made its transition comparatively easily.
* Lester Maddox died in June of 2003.
** See anonymous comment below.