Q: What was the fate of Lester Maddox’s segregated Pickrick Restaurant. When did it close? Was it integrated? And is the building still standing?
—Frank Minor, Rome
A: Before Maddox was governor of Georgia from 1967-71, he owned and ran the Pickrick Restaurant in a building he built at 881 Hemphill Ave., next to Georgia Tech. The restaurant wasn’t far from where he grew up in the Home Park neighborhood and also near the Atlantic Steel Mill, where Maddox and his dad had worked. The mill survived into the 1990s before it closed and gave way to Atlantic Station. Don Rooney, the director of exhibitions at the Atlanta History Center, provided many of the details about the infamous restaurant, which opened in 1947 and found itself in the Civil Rights spotlight. The Pickrick grew in size and popularity throughout the 1950s and seated 400 in 1956, but Maddox, a segregationist, served only whites. He even refused to integrate the restaurant after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, and again when hit with an injunction. Instead of serving blacks, Maddox closed the restaurant in August. He soon reopened it as The Lester Maddox Cafeteria, but again he refused to serve blacks before closing the place for good on Feb. 7, 1965. Georgia Tech bought the Pickrick and turned it into the Fred W. Ajax Placement Center. Despite the efforts of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Rep. John Lewis, who “advocated for the building’s preservation as an important site related to the Civil Rights movement,” Rooney wrote, time caught up to the Pickrick in 2009. The building was demolished in May of that year. The Atlanta History Center (atlantahistorycenter.com, 404-814-4000) has several Maddox and Pickrick items in its collection.
Update from a reader: I’ve received more information on Gordon and Susie Burnett, a prominent Atlanta family in the early 20th century and the subject of a recent Actual Factual Georgia. They owned a red brick home right around 3400 Peachtree Road, where the two Lenox Tower buildings now stand. Several grandchildren and great-grandchildren still live in the Atlanta area.
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