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Former Georgia Gov. Maddox dies

Once blocked African-Americans from his restaurant

Lester Maddox in 2001 at his home in Marietta, Georgia.
Lester Maddox in 2001 at his home in Marietta, Georgia.

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Lester Maddox, notorious as the defiant ax handle- wielding segregationist who went on to become a populist governor of Georgia, died of complications from a fall, his family announced Wednesday. He was 87.

The Associated Press reported that Maddox, who had battled cancer since 1983, developed pneumonia after cracking two ribs when he fell about two weeks ago.

Maddox, a born showman who never asked forgiveness for his segregationist stands, came to national attention in 1964 when African-Americans attempted to integrate his Pickrick chicken restaurant.

Maddox turned the black people away that day, the day after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, standing in the door of his restaurant carrying a pistol. Supporters stood behind him with ax handles.

He later closed his restaurant rather than serve African-Americans. Ax handles became his symbol.

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CNN's Gary Tuchman examines the life of Lester Maddox, a symbol of segregationist defiance, who became Georgia governor. (June 25).
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Years later he opened a restaurant-souvenir shop in Atlanta's then-unique "Underground" shopping district and actually sold signed ax handles he labeled "Pickrick drum sticks."

Fluke election

Maddox became governor of Georgia in 1967 on a fluke.

In the 1966 Democratic primary, Maddox ended up second behind former Gov. Ellis Arnall, known as a progressive, and ahead of a farmer from Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter, the former president. Because nobody held a 50 percent majority, a runoff was held.

In Georgia, voters may vote for any party in the primaries, any runoffs and general elections. So many Republicans voted in the runoff for Maddox, believing their candidate, Howard "Bo" Callaway, could more easily beat Maddox. Arnall lost.

Lester Maddox brandishes a pistol during an unsuccessful attempt by three black men to desegregate his restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, the day after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964.
Lester Maddox brandishes a pistol during an unsuccessful attempt by three black men to desegregate his restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, the day after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964.

In the general election, Callaway and Maddox were close, but Callaway was still ahead. He was denied a 50 percent majority, however, because of write-in votes for former Gov. Arnall.

Under Georgia's constitution, when no candidate receives a majority, the decision is made by the state Legislature. Dominated by Democrats, it voted for Maddox.

Once in office, Maddox's populist roots emerged. He fought for overhaul of the state's prison and health care systems. In addition, he threw open the doors of the governor's office every month for "People's Day" where people of all races lined up to tell him their troubles and seek his aid.

The Associated Press reported that upon his inauguration, Maddox vowed, "There will be no place in Georgia during the next four years for those who advocate extremism or violence."

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, praised Maddox for his common touch.

"Governor Maddox had the unique ability to connect with everyday Georgians regardless of their background or station in life," Perdue said in a statement.

Maddox fought with the Legislature that elected him, often using his touch for grabbing the headlines to push for support for his programs with the public.

A Maddox trademark was holding news conferences on the lawn of the governor's mansion on Sunday afternoons when news outlets had very little else to cover, giving him exposure on Sunday night television and front-page headlines in Monday morning newspapers.

Maddox was so popular at the end of 1971 he might have won re-election but the Georgia constitution barred him from seeking another term as governor.

Fighting Carter

start quoteGovernor Maddox had the unique ability to connect with everyday Georgians regardless of their background or station in life.end quote
-- Gov. Sonny Perdue

Instead, Maddox chose to become the first Georgia governor to run for the state's second highest post, lieutenant governor.

Fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter became governor and spent much of his first term embroiled in Statehouse clashes with his second-in-command.

Maddox ran for governor again in 1974 in a race many saw as a referendum on his style and his policies. He led in the Democratic primary but lost in the runoff.

In 1976, Maddox clashed with Carter again, running for president as the candidate of the American Independent Party. Carter won while Maddox received 170,000 votes.

Maddox said until the end he never regretted any of the stands he took. But those who worked for and supported Maddox said his stand on segregation was more an expression of his eccentric individualism than any hatred of blacks.

Former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy, who was Maddox's floor leader in the House during his term as governor, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "He had a reputation as a segregationist, but he told us he was not a segregationist, but that you should be able to associate with whoever you wanted. He went on to do more for African-Americans than any governor of Georgia up until that time."



Copyright 2003 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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