Cities: Atlanta

Lester Maddox and the Pickrick Restaurant

Lester Garfield Maddox, a devout segregationist, owned and operated a restaurant called the “Pickrick Cafeteria,” that was located at 891 Hemphill Avenue near the Georgia Tech campus. As depicted in this WSB clip, after Maddox had renamed it the Lester Maddox Cafeteria in the Fall of 1964, the restaurant itself was known more for what it represented than for its good food and affordable prices. Maddox and his customers supported segregation and opposed the federal government's intervention in such policies.

The Pickrick was open only to white customers and refused those who were black or those who were considered integrationists. The restaurant featured a wide selection of free segregationist literature and the “Make a Wish for Segregation” wishing well. Although Maddox owned the restaurant to make a living, he utilized its ability to attract media attention to voice his opinions and to gain support in the community.

The restaurant faced several problems, the largest of which was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made racial segregation illegal. It was Maddox’s open defiance of the Civil Rights Act that thrust him into the national spotlight. In 1964, he refused to serve three black students and chased them out with a gun while his white customers used axe handles. He contended that both his business and property were being threatened.

The federal government took Lester Maddox to court in the case Willis v. Pickrick Restaurant (1964), and ordered him to desegregate within twenty days. Rather than own an integrated restaurant, Maddox sold the Pickrick to two of his previous white employees, Roy Duncan and Edward Piper.

Donald L. Hollowell, the civil rights lawyer depicted in this WSB clip, spoke out against Lester Maddox. His actions as a lawyer had included defending the Reverend Dr. King and hundreds of other foot soldiers for civil rights. He also participated in cases that desegregated buses and integrated public facilities. Hollowell’s opinion of Lester Maddox was highly regarded in the Atlanta community' Hollowell's actions encouraged others to speak out against or challenge Maddox’s opinions. A majority of other elite figures, including former Georgia state representative Billy McKinney (father of the politician Cynthia McKinney), considered Maddox as the quintessential symbol of southern racism.

During his ownership of the Pickrick, Maddox twice ran for mayor of Atlanta and lost. In October 1965, he announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. True to his reputation, he ran a grass-roots campaign on platform based on segregation and resisting federal encroachment on state and individual rights. This proved effective for a majority of Georgia voters--Maddox was sworn in as governor on January 10, 1967.

To the surprise of many, Maddox instituted many social reforms, such as improving the prison system and promoting African Americans into more prominent government positions. He was the first Georgia governor to appoint an African American as the head of a state department--the Board of Corrections. He was also instrumental in the state's hiring of its first African American state trooper, its first African American Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) agent, and its first African American members of draft boards.

Despite these positive measures, these actions were often seen as insincere. In 1968, for example, Maddox ordered a heavy police presence at the funeral procession of Dr. King, and he would not allow state facilities to fly the state flag at half mast. Maddox also opposed many civil rights agendas that were being pursued by the Democratic Party on a national level.

In 1971, after serving four years as governor, Maddox became lieutenant governor under the governorship of Jimmy Carter. The two men were constantly at odds and often brought their differences to light in the public eye. Maddox’s years with Carter proved to be his last in elected office. He lived the rest of his life riddled with medical problems and died in 2003.

Maddox's battles with the federal government and attorney Hollowell demonstrate the importance of court decisions in mediating civil rights disputes and pushing forward an agenda of integration and equality. From desegregating public facilities and forms of transportation, to affirming the legality of interracial marriages, to extending the right to vote to all citizens, the courts were integral to the success of the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia. Their role in such matters underscores the crucial nature of executive appointments of federal judges.

Suggested Resources (click here)

Discussion Questions

1. Go to the New Georgia Encyclopedia essay on Lester Maddox. Click on the right-hand video clip entitled "Lester Maddox: MLK Jr. Funeral." What do his remarks tell us about what "states' rights" meant to segregationists like him?

2. Do you think that Maddox ever regretted his actions? Or, did he act differently in order to be viewed differently by society?

3. Why might African Americans knowingly work at a restaurant that was owned by a segregationist? 

4. Did Maddox's views and the actions taken against him help bring awareness of the Civil Rights Movement or did they hinder the Movement in Georgia? 

5. Research the position of Governor Jimmy Carter on race. Why would he have selected Lester Garfield Maddox as his lieutenant governor?

Take it to the Streets!

As we were editing this essay for our site, one of our Research Assistants, Aggie Ebrahimi, discovered that she grew up in East Cobb County just a few doors down from Lester Maddox's house. She remembers that he displayed a sign, an anniversary present, that thanked God for giving him his wife. Forty-five days later, he added to the sign a lament that she had died. This sentimental side of Maddox may contrast with the public persona that is often associated with him. Choose one person from this list of public figures below. Write a story that depicts this person in a different light from how he or she is typically viewed. Make certain that you do not name the individual in your story. Then, read your story to your classmates and ask them to identify the person you wrote about.

Michael Jackson
Barry Bonds
President George Walker Bush
Oprah Winfrey
Hillary Clinton
"Dice-K" or Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox
Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'a leader of the Mahdi Army in Iraq
Colin Powell, former U.S. Secratary of State
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, President of Venezuela
Cynthia Ann McKinney, GA-Dem., U.S. House of Representatives, 1993-2003, 2005-2007

Writers: Heather Grimes, Ivy Howard, Seth Headrick, Victor Lane, Rebekah Martin, Colby McCulley, and Jacqueline McMullenin Dr. Barbara McCaskill's AFAM/ENGL 3230 class (Survey of African American Literature) at The University of Georgia, Spring 2007.  

Editors and Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Christina L. Davis, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill     

Web Site Designer: William Weems 

Freedom on Film is not responsible for the content of external web sites.