Addresses of Lester Garfield Maddox, 1967-1971
In retrospect, the Sixties seem a decade in the life of this country during which some cellar door was left ajar. Suddenly loose and rampant in the house were all manner of trolls and intruders, manic apparitions, a dark ransacking beserkness from the chaos of the old night outside. With the assassinations of King and the Kennedys, the advents of Wallace and Agnew, the mounting mad incantations of White House rationales for Vietnam, and such sorceries as Nixon’s self-wrought exhumation and reanimation, those ten years passed like a malarial dream in which the unthinkable became the familiar, the surreal became the commonplace.
It may seem, then, a reckless proposition, but there was perhaps no more astral occurrence during that long phantasmagorical decade than the ascension of Lester Garfield Maddox—erstwhile fried chicken peddler and pick-handle Dixie patriot—to the governorship of Georgia. He was, in a way, the consummate caricature of those awry times. The nation’s only notice of him up to then had been a single brief glimpse, in the summer of 1964, of a flushed, bespectacled figure with a scanty-haired onion bulb head lunging gawkily about the parking lot to his Atlanta restaurant, a small black pistol clenched at his waist, shrilly shooing back into their car three black students who had presented themselves as customers. The next time everybody saw him, not quite two and a half years later, he was being inaugurated governor of Georgia.
That was in 1966. Elected in 1970 to the lieutenant governorship, he presides now over the parliamentary machinations of the state senate, invested with the gravity of a true and formidable political heft in the state, posing with an almost Presbyterian soberness and decorum on that chamber’s rostrum behind sprays of tiger lilies and gladioli vaguely suggestive of the floral gorgeousness embellishing the pulpits of Billy Graham crusades, and serenely biding his time until, in all likelihood, he is elected governor again in 1974. In spite of all his consequence, the passage of six years has done nothing to diminish the initial incredulousness among a lot of people in Georgia.
Nevertheless, as has become an official tax-subsidized courtesy for governors at the conclusions of their terms, the Georgia Department of Archives and History has produced a solemn bound volume of Lester’s assorted public ruminations while he was occupying that office. This could not be considered exactly one of the more imposing events of the publishing year. The truth is, at no time during his tenure did Lester really amount to anything more, in the course of the state or the country, than a grotesque entertainment, and this compendium of his various contemplations, by any ideological schema yet intelligible to man, simply refuses to scan. It is a transcript of four years of exuberant static which, however, understates the complexity of that static, since Lester has acknowledged he almost always improvised on these texts. What’s…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.