Lester Maddox, Georgia Firebrand, Dies at 87; Strongly Opposed Integration under Civil Rights Act

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Byline: Robert Stacy McCain, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lester Maddox, a former governor of Georgia who staunchly opposed racial integration in the 1960s, died yesterday in Atlanta. He was 87.

Mr. Maddox had survived a previous battle with cancer and had suffered other health problems for years. He died in an hospice after developing pneumonia, family members said.

A high school dropout who earned his fortune as an Atlanta restaurateur, Mr. Maddox became a national figure for his outspoken defense of segregation. He was eclipsed only by Orval E. Faubus of Arkansas, George C. Wallace of Alabama and Ross Barnett of Mississippi as gubernatorial symbols of Southern defiance of federal authority during the tumultuous civil rights era.

Many regarded him as a bigot and a demagogue, but as governor from 1967 to 1971 Mr. Maddox posted a record of political reform and economic growth that won praise, mostly grudging, from some of his fiercest critics.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a black civil rights activist, credits Mr. Maddox with appointing blacks to positions they had never held before and for his prison reforms, but said his legacy is stained by his refusal to acknowledge segregation was wrong.

"If Lester had said, 'I was wrong,' I believe the vast majority of African-Americans would have said, 'OK, we forgive you,"' Mr. Brooks said.

"The Maddox administration was a good one, marked with historic and progressive achievements," said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, and once an aide to Mr. Maddox. "Under his watch, Georgia instituted a more humane prison system, and integrated the Georgia State Patrol, and county welfare and draft boards throughout the state. History will judge his administration well."

Barred by law from seeking re-election in 1970, Mr. Maddox instead successfully sought election as lieutenant governor, serving in that office during the governorship of fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Maddox "worked hard for the state for many years, making himself remarkably accessible to the people of Georgia," Mr. Carter said yesterday.

Some other Southern Democrats, including both Messrs. Wallace and Carter, later renounced segregation, and some, like Mr. Faubus, insisted they resisted for state's rights principles, but Mr. Maddox was unrepentant.

"I want my race preserved and I hope most everybody else wants theirs preserved," he said in 2001. Both "forced segregation" and "forced integration" were equally "illegal and wrong," he said.

Born in a working-class Atlanta neighborhood in 1915, Lester Garfield Maddox dropped out of school and went to work during the Great Depression.

At 17, Mr. Maddox was walking down the street when a girl on a bicycle rode past, eating an Eskimo Pie. "I went into the ice cream store and found out who she was," Mr. Maddox later recalled. …