This may be ancient history for some of you out there, but there are still a few of us who remember the man who could be considered one of the most colorful governors to serve the state of Georgia. His name was Lester Maddox (sound familiar)? Maddox was a relatively unknown small businessman who owned a family restaurant in Atlanta called the “Pickrick.” All that changed during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Maddox was also a firm believer in segregation and, following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, refused to serve any customers who were not white. He based his claim on the fact that the restaurant was his property and he had the right to serve only those customers he wanted. He turned away black customers from his restaurant by waving a pick handle at them. (Pickrick – pick handle – get it?). After Maddox lost his case in court, he closed down his restaurant, but he had already made a name for himself.
We have just seen a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States that sounds eerily similar to the Lester Maddox case. The owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop argued that they didn’t have to serve gay customers because it violated their religious and first amendment beliefs. But essentially they are making the same argument that Maddox did back in the 1960s. Its their business and they can chose whom they wish to serve.
In fact, Patheos reports that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on December 6th, while commenting on the Masterpiece case, that the president had no trouble with businesses posting “No Gays Allowed” signs in their windows.
Can someone, anyone, please explain how this is any different from the sign posted below?
If baking a cake for a gay couple somehow means you support gay marriage, then doesn’t serving someone alcohol mean you support drunk driving? You could discuss options with them, such as not putting two men or women on top of the cake, if you find that so morally reprehensible, and let them add the figures. Apparently the owners of the cake shop were not even willing to discuss any options.
If you are open for business to the public, then you should serve the public. Just as Lester Maddox was not allowed to decide which customers could come into his restaurant, neither should these bakers decide whom they are going to serve either. And the idea that the President of the United States supports people being able to post signs in their businesses that read “No Gays Allowed” should turn your stomach, no matter what you think or feel about homosexuality. What is next? “No Jews Allowed” by Muslim businesses (not that they would do that) or “No Muslims Allowed” by evangelical Christians.
Maddox went on to run for governor in 1966 and, in one of the most unusual elections in Georgia history, he actually won! Maddox won the Democratic primary because it was an open primary and the Republicans voted for him in droves, because they thought he could be easily beaten. Although the Republican candidate “Bo” Callaway won the most votes, a third-party write in campaign by former governor Ellis Arnall garnered enough votes so that no candidate secured the required 50%+1 votes needed for victory. The decision then went to the heavily Democrat Georgia legislature. And in an instance of tribal loyalty, they dutifully elected the Democrat Lester Maddox, with then freshman member Julian Bond being the sole dissenting Democrat vote.
Ironically, Maddox turned out to be not such a bad governor after all. Not the greatest in Georgia history, but he did a respectable job. And no one could fault him on his policies toward black people. He was noted for his devotion to his wife Virginia, and each year on Mother’s Day he took out a space in the Atlanta papers to remember the memory of his mother. After his wife’s death, he included her in those notices right up until his death from cancer in 2003.
On a personal note, I had the chance to chat privately with Governor Maddox for about 30 minutes following the funeral of former Senator Herman Talmadge. He was kind and behaved as one would expect a Southern gentleman should. Unlike Jimmy Carter who walked right past us, blatantly ignoring a young man trying to get his attention.
There’s an old saying that you don’t get to choose your neighbors or your relatives. If you operate a public business, that should also include you don’t get to choose your customers either.