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The 1966 Georgia Gubernatorial Race


As the presidential election approaches, I am reminded of elections past. One of the most interesting electoral memories is not of a presidential election, but the Georgia Gubernatorial election of 1966. I was in the third grade at the time and living in Doraville,
a suburb of Atlanta made famous many years later by The Atlanta Rhythm Section.

The two major party candidates were Howard "Bo" Callaway on the Republican ticket and notorious segregationist Lester Maddox
on the Democratic side. Former governor Ellis Arnall also ran as a write-in candidate. Many liberals in Georgia, unhappy with a
choice between a Republican and a segregationist, supported Ellis Arnall.

My father was among them. He was kind of an early version of a Nader supporter. He caught a lot of flak for this, for the same reason Nader supporters sometimes catch flak from Democrats. A lot of his friends thought (correctly, it turns out) his support for Arnall would help put
Maddox in the governor's mansion.

You might think that in 1966 Georgia people would have no problem with a segregationist. But everyone our family knew in Doraville
disliked Maddox, and it was because of his racism. We had a neighbor I thought looked like Lester Maddox. I mentioned this to my mother and she told me never to say this to him because this neighbor had an extremely low opinion of Maddox.

Having previously been scolded for telling a woman her baby looked like Krushchev, I heeded her words.

My schoolmates and I talked about the election when we walked to school together. We didn't know all the details of the candidates, but when does lack of knowledge ever stop anyone from talking politics? We did know about Maddox being charged with assault as a result of an altercation with some African-Americans who wanted to eat at the restaurant he owned.

"Lester Maddox crommited a crime" said my friend Alex, "we don't want a governor who crommited a crime". (Yes he said 'crommit'. We were in the third grade.)

Another friend asked me if my father was supporting Bo Calloway. When I told him he wasn't he narrowed his eyes and said "He's not voting for Lester Maddox is he?". I told him my father was supporting Ellis Arnall. "I've never heard of him" was the response, even though Arnall was a former governor. (Did I mention we were in the third grade?)

Maddox ended up being becoming governor. Because of Arnall's candidacy, no one got a majority of the votes. Callaway got a plurality. By Georgia law, the state house of representatives had to break the tie between the two top vote-getters. Since the house was dominated by
Democrats, Maddox won.

Maddox was a surprisingly moderate governor. Even though he didn't change his racist stripes completely,he appointed more African-Americans to state positions than any previous governor. My father pointed out to me that he was the first governor to appoint an African-American to the Georgia draft board. He pointed this out several times. Liberal as he was (he voted for McGovern in the 1972 primaries), he was quite defensive of Mr. Maddox. Maybe he was just giving credit where credit is due, or maybe he was just trying to put the best face possible on the end result of Ellis Arnall's candidacy.

Bo Callaway went on to become Secretary Of The Army in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, and later. Gerald Ford's presidential campaign manager. Elections were clearly not his strong suit.

There is one more "where are they now" story, about a player I haven't mentioned yet. Ellis Arnall had run in the Democratic primary, and actually got a plurality. But he didn't get a majority because there were more than two candidates in the primary. There was then a
runoff, which Maddox won.

The third candidate that kept Arnall away from the nomination was an obscure state senator named Jimmy Carter. In fairness to my father, I think Carter played a much bigger role in Maddox's rise to power than Pop did. I will leave Carter's "where are they now" story as an
exercise for the reader.


That's an interesting story. Thanks for sharing. I'm only glad that Maddox didn't turn out to be a worse racist when he was in power.

Ah, this proves that third party candidates can achieve power. :D
Well, except that Ellis Arnall was really the third party candidate in this election.
Oops, sorry 'bout that.