TIFTON--Thirty-seven years ago, man hadn't stepped foot on the moon, Johnson was president, and the face of Georgia politics was about to change forever. That's when Tifton had her first run-in with Georgia's last "Old South" governor, Lester Maddox.
The news that Maddox died yesterday in Atlanta after complications from a fall has stirred many Tifton residents to recall fond memories of the former governor.
Jimmy Carson of Tifton, who was barely a teen-ager when he first met Maddox back in 1966, remembers good times on the campaign trail.
"I remember the day when my cousin and I were riding our bicycles downtown when we ran into a big station wagon with a board over it. It turned out to be Maddox and his brother, who were campaigning in Tifton," Carson said. "We spent the rest of that afternoon showing Mr. Maddox where all the big business owners lived and where to put flyers up. It was a good experience."
For several weeks Carson and his cousin volunteered to put up posters in Tifton, Chula and Brookfield.
Finally at the end of 1966, Carson and company's work paid off when in a fluke win, Maddox took home the gubernatorial title.
And when it came time to thank those responsible, Carson was at the top of Maddox's list.
"Yeah, we received a invitation to the inauguration and met and talked with the governor for a little while," Carson said.
Maddox, who is known mostly for closing his restaurant back in the 60s rather than serve blacks and for his wars with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, led a surprisingly racially balanced term.
According to Carson, Maddox hired several blacks to key positions in the Georgia government, helped ease racial tensions in Atlanta through the use of a friend, James Brown, and even heard a plea from an escaped convict who took advantage of "People's Day" at the Capital to beg the governor for better conditions in the Georgia prison system.
Henry Bostick, former state representative and local attorney, had several run-ins with the governor during his terms at the capitol.
"I remember in the very earliest days of his term the roof of the Cook County High School had blown off and I walked in and grabbed his arm and introduced him to the Cook County Board of Education. We told them the story and right there he promised them $80,000 to put a new roof onto the school," Bostick said.
Bostick said Maddox was a colorful speaker and the most honest man Bostick ever met.
"I've served with five or six governors, and he was the most honorable one I worked with," Bostick said.
Maddox was an outspoken and controversial figure in Georgia politics, but he was rooted in his family and deep religious beliefs.
He was a family man and enjoyed being with the people, Carson said.
Bostick recalled a Tifton parade in which Maddox managed to ride his trademark bicycle backwards in the parade while waving at his constituents.
Tifton will serve as one of the final chapters in Maddox's political and personal life. It was here that Maddox gave his last public speech in February 2002, to the Kiwanis Club.
During that speech, the former governor expressed how bad his health had become. In the Feb. 2 edition of the Tifton Gazette, Maddox was quoted as saying that "I can't get out of bed sometimes to get my cereal," and that "I wouldn't come here for $10,000, but I would come for those boys (Carson cousins) on the bicycles."
For some Maddox will always be seen as the segregationist governor who shut the doors of his restaurant to people based on their race, but to Bostick the man had bigger ideas.
"When he first entered the capital, he was a little hardheaded about certain things, but as his term moved on, the governor flowered and matured and I believe he left that office with a newer vision for Georgia than the one he entered it with," Bostick said.
Maddox died Wednesday of pneumonia at an Atlanta area hospice.
To contact reporter J.D. Sumner, call 382-4321, ext. 207.
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