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WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Lester Maddox pushing African Americans away from his cafeteria with an ax handle, Atlanta, Georgia, 1965 January 29

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Creator:WSB-TV (Television station : Atlanta, Ga.)
Title:WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Lester Maddox pushing African Americans away from his cafeteria with an ax handle, Atlanta, Georgia, 1965 January 29
Date:1965 Jan. 29

In this WSB newsfilm clip from January 29, 1965, Reverend Charles E. Wells, Sr. and three unidentified African American men peacefully attempt to patronize the Lester Maddox Cafeteria in Atlanta, Georgia, where they are faced down by Lester Maddox and other white restaurant patrons and staff, who violently push them away from the establishment and shout at them. A young white male patron is also pushed off of the property. Multiple segments of the clip appear to be out of sequence.

The silent clip, just over four and a half minutes long, begins outside the entrance of the Lester Maddox Cafeteria at 891 Hemphill Avenue N. W., Atlanta, where a crowd of white men and four African American men are gathered. Lester Maddox, the restaurant's proprietor, shoves Reverend Charles E. Wells, Sr. and an unidentified African American man away from the entrance; they resist peacefully. The clip breaks, and in the next shot, Maddox, holding an axe handle, grabs Wells by the lapels of his coat, and pushes him forcefully across the parking lot, while Lester Maddox, Jr. aggressively shoves another African American man outside of the camera frame. Again, Wells and the other African American man are peacefully resisting. As Maddox retreats to the front entrance of the restaurant, he yells something to the crowd of bystanders. The clip breaks, and Maddox uses his hands to push away a third African American man who also resists peacefully. Maddox then rushes across to shove Wells, who has returned from the edge of the parking lot to his previous position in front of the restaurant; Maddox initially uses an axe handle, then grabs Wells several times by the neck and pushes him back to the sidewalk. Wells holds his hands in the air, presumably to demonstrate that he is not retaliating. After another jump in the clip, Maddox speaks to a young white man standing in front of his restaurant. The clip breaks, and Maddox, filmed from the back, pushes the young man away to the curb; a white woman stands to the side, holding a coat. Next, a police car and an officer on a motorcycle drive past the restaurant; the officer on the motorcycle makes a u-turn and drives in the opposite direction. This is followed by a sidewalk shot of a white man in a service uniform aggressively wagging his finger in the face of one of the unidentified African American men who have attempted to enter the restaurant. Next, a shot filmed from a further distance shows a crowd gathered in front of the restaurant. A covered sign on the property reads "This light turned out by L. B. J."; also visible is a large, white, smokestack-shaped monument that Maddox built to memorialize private property rights.

In the next shot, taken from a distance, two of the African American men who sought service at the restaurant exit the premises and make their way down the sidewalk. Next, the clip jumps back to Lester Maddox in the midst of a discussion with the young white man he pushed off of the restaurant premises in a previous section of the clip. The clip jumps to a shot of Maddox pointing vigorously at the young man, then at the curb; Maddox reaches for the young man's shoulder, directs him toward the curb, and pushes him off of the premises. As he does this, white bystanders hover around the scene in the parking lot. A model A Ford is parked at the back of the parking lot. Attached to its side is a banner, whose legible text reads "The Pickrick Ford drawing FREE 3:00 P.M. April 6"; the rest of the banner is illegible. After a pause, the clip jumps back to a shot of the front of the restaurant, with three members of the group of African American men standing by the entrance. The same uniformed white man addresses one of the African American men, then gestures toward the door with his arm. This is followed by another shot of Lester Maddox shoving away two members of the group of African American men with an axe handle while a group of white men rush behind Maddox, and a cameraman tries to capture the shot. Wells attempts to engage Maddox in discussion; Maddox is joined promptly by several white men, who stand beside him; one of whom is a restaurant employee wearing an apron and paper hat. A nearby donation box reads "Clothes for the needy." Next, Wells and two African American men stand in the restaurant driveway while speaking to the white man in the service uniform. He points his finger in their faces again. The fourth African American member of the group is behind them, speaking to another person who is off-camera. Next, the camera focuses on the predominantly white crowd in a shot framed above the shoulders, and closes in on a white man wearing glasses and a hat, attempting to speak to Wells. The clip jumps, and a white reporter asks Wells a question as he departs from the site. The clip pauses for a period, showing a blank black screen, and then a shot of the asphalt below.

The clip resumes with a shot of two police cars parked directly across the street from the restaurant. A police officer stands outside of the car closest to the street. There is another shot of a police officer on a motorcycle; he turns his car into the lot where the two police cars are parked. The next shot, taken from inside the lot where the police cars are parked, shows the top of one of the police cars, and the Lester Maddox Cafeteria across the street; one of the police cars pulls out of the lot. Across the street, the crowd outside of the restaurant appears to have dispersed; several customers walk toward the restaurant entrance, and a young white boy crosses the street. The clip breaks and begins again with another shot of the restaurant taken from the same location. The clip pauses again, displaying a blank black screen, then a gray screen.

Next, the clip returns to another shot of Maddox pushing away one of the unidentified African American men, then Wells, then another man; he pushes the first two men by their chests, and the third man by grabbing the back of his neck and head; the African American men attempt to regain their composure and make their way back to the restaurant. The camera, now directly in front of Maddox, captures a frontal view of him pushing one of the African American men towards the camera. Maddox retreats; as he moves backward, it becomes evident that he is holding axe handles in both hands. The African American men do not fight back. One of the unidentified African American men begins to speak to Maddox, as he gestures with both hands. White restaurant patrons and employees move in beside Maddox, to block the African American men from moving closer to the restaurant. A man puts Wells' hat back on his head, and Maddox heads back toward the restaurant. The African American men continue to speak to the white men who have blocked the front of the restaurant. The same uniformed white man seen in previous shots approaches one of the African American men, then aggressively points at him and shouts. Wells attempts to intercede. Next, in a shot taken from behind Wells, several angry white restaurant patrons exchange words with Wells and another of the African American men, while several other white men stand behind and observe. This is followed by a shot taken from a different angle, where two different white men speak to Wells. The clip jumps back to a shot of the same uniformed white man combatively pointing and thrusting his arm in front of the face of the same African American man; the African American man shouts back at him. The shot is taken behind the white man's head; it is not clear if he is also shouting. Next, another white man argues with the African American man standing next to Wells and repeatedly shakes his pinched fingers, as though he is trying to make a series of points. This white man is also filmed from behind, so it is unclear if he is shouting. The clip jumps to another shot of the crowd gathered in the parking lot in front of the restaurant, taken from a distance.

Next, Wells and the three other African American men retreat from the restaurant parking lot to the sidewalk, and, as seen in a previous section of the clip, Wells turns around to speak to the white reporter as he leaves. The African American men leave the site of the restaurant, and proceed down the sidewalk. Next, the camera captures a close-up shot of the sign for the Lester Maddox Cafeteria, then jumps back to another shot of Maddox speaking to the young white man he kicked off of his property in a previous section of the clip; they are standing in front of the restaurant entrance. Maddox extends his arm and points to his right. The clip breaks again, to another shot of Maddox and the young white man, this time on the edge of the restaurant property; here, Maddox leans in toward the young man, then walks away. Next, several people mill around the entrance of the Lester Maddox Cafeteria, the shot includes the antique Ford in the parking lot, with another sign on the back of the car that reads "Pickrick Ford"; the rest of the text on the sign is illegible. This is followed by a shot of a newer light-colored car that displays the Pickrick Restaurant's logo, and reads "The Pickrick Atlanta, Ga. Lester Maddox, Pres." The camera pans back up to the sign "Lester Maddox Cafeteria" posted above the entrance of the restaurant. The clip ends with a shot of a group of several white customers walking beneath the building's awning and toward the restaurant entrance.

On January 29, 1965, Reverend Charles E. Wells, Sr. and three other African American men were denied service at the Lester Maddox Cafeteria, where they were verbally accosted and physically shoved away, in some cases with axe handles, by white patrons of the restaurant. The four African American men had also attempted to patronize Maddox's establishment on two previous occasions. Maddox, still waiting to answer a federal contempt order for his refusal to integrate, was operating his establishment in open defiance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was also awaiting trial on pending state charges for pointing a gun on three African American ministers, George Willis, Jr., Woodrow Lewis, and Albert Dunn in their attempt to integrate his previous establishment, the Pickrick Restaurant, on July 4, 1964. A photograph from the incident was captured by an Associated Press photographer and saw nationwide distribution; in the photo, Maddox and his son Lester Maddox, Jr. force George Lewis away from Maddox's Pickrick restaurant by pointing a handgun and brandishing an axe handle at him. Willis vs. Pickrick Restaurant, the lawsuit filed by Willis, Lewis, and Dunn, became the first case brought under the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the wake of national publicity surrounding the event, Maddox adopted the axe handle as a symbol of his resistance to desegregation, and sold souvenir axe handles, dubbed "Pickrick drumsticks" to his segregationist supporters, in whose eyes he had become a folk hero. On July 22, 1964, a federal court upheld the Civil Rights Act, and issued an injunction against the Pickrick and the white-only Heart of Atlanta Motel, owned by Atlanta attorney Moreton Rolleston. Both businesses were prohibited from denying service to customers based on color or race. While lawyers appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, Maddox closed the Pickrick on August 13, and re-opened the business as the Lester Maddox Cafeteria on September 26 on the same property. Maddox contended that the new establishment was a local business that did not engage in state commerce, and was therefore not subject to the Civil Rights Act. In December 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Civil Rights Act. For the next couple of months, Maddox continued to operate his new restaurant under the pretense of refusing to serve integrationists, a denial of service that he insisted was politically, not racially, based. On February 5, 1965, federal district judge Frank A. Hooper found Maddox to be in contempt of court, and imposed a fine of two hundred dollars for each day he failed to integrate his restaurant. During his contempt hearing, Maddox testified that he never used violence against African Americans, and claimed that he only shoved Wells and his party because the African American men had shoved him first. He also complained to the press about a sprained arm and hand. On February 7, 1965, Maddox closed the Lester Maddox Cafeteria. That same year, he announced his candidacy for governor of Georgia. After having defeated political moderate (and former governor) Ellis Arnall in the Democratic primaries, Maddox ran against segregationist Republican Howard "Bo" Callaway in 1966. Although Callaway received the most popular votes in the general election, a vigorous write-in campaign for Ellis Arnall prevented Callaway from receiving the majority vote that was required by the state constitution at that date, and shifted the gubernatorial election to the Democratic party-dominated Georgia State Assembly, where Maddox's victory was secured by a vote of 182 to 66. Ten legislators, nine of whom were African American, refused to vote for either segregationist candidate.

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The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.

Types:news | unedited footage | MovingImage
Subjects:Maddox, Lester, 1915-2003 | Maddox, Lester, Jr., 1944- | Wells, Charles E. 1938-2004 | Discrimination in restaurants--Georgia--Atlanta | African Americans--Civil rights--Georgia--Atlanta | Segregation--Georgia--Atlanta | Segregation--Southern States | Segregationists--Georgia--Atlanta | Segregationists--Southern States | Race relations | Civil rights demonstrations--Georgia--Atlanta | Civil rights demonstrations--Southern States | Police--Georgia--Atlanta | Restaurants--Georgia--Atlanta | Restaurateurs--Georgia--Atlanta | Restaurants--Employees | Discrimination in restaurants--Southern States | Discrimination in public accommodations--Georgia--Atlanta | Discrimination in public accommodations--Southern States | Civil rights workers--Georgia--Atlanta | Civil rights workers--Southern States | African American clergy--Georgia | Clergy--Georgia | Race discrimination--Georgia--Atlanta | Race discrimination--Southern States | Racism--Georgia--Atlanta | Racism--Southern States | African Americans--Segregation--Georgia--Atlanta | African Americans--Segregation--Southern States | African Americans--Crimes against--Georgia--Atlanta | African Americans--Crimes against--Southern States | Offenses against the person--Georgia | Offenses against the person--Southern States | African Americans--Civil rights | African Americans--Civil rights--Southern States | African Americans--Violence against--Georgia--Atlanta | African Americans--Violence against--Southern States | African Americans--Georgia--Social conditions--20th century | African Americans--Southern States--Social conditions--20th century | Whites--Georgia--Social conditions--20th century | Whites--Southern States--Social conditions--20th century | Social conflict--Georgia--Atlanta | City traffic--Georgia--Atlanta | Motorcycles--Georgia--Atlanta | Police vehicles--Georgia--Atlanta | Press--Georgia--Atlanta | Reporters and reporting--Georgia--Atlanta | Television journalists--Georgia--Atlanta | Television cameras--Georgia--Atlanta | Signs and signboards--Georgia--Atlanta | Monuments--Georgia--Atlanta | Parking lots--Georgia--Atlanta | Raffles--Georgia--Atlanta | Poor--Charitable contributions--Georgia--Atlanta | Atlanta (Ga.)--Race relations | Atlanta (Ga.)--Race relations--History--20th century | Southern States--Race relations | Georgia--Race relations | Southern States--Race relations--History--20th century | Georgia--Social conditions--20th century | Southern States--Social conditions--20th century | Pickrick (Atlanta, Ga.) | Lester Maddox Cafeteria (Atlanta, Ga.) | Atlanta (Ga.). Police Department | United States, Georgia, Fulton County, Atlanta, 33.749, -84.38798
Collection:WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection
Institution:Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection
Contributors:Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection
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Original found in the WSB-TV newsfilm collection

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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Lester Maddox pushing African Americans away from his cafeteria with an ax handle, Atlanta, Georgia, 1965 January 29, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1241, 3:57/08:32, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.

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Forms part of: Civil Rights Digital Library.

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Persistent Link to Item:http://crdl.usg.edu/do:ugabma_wsbn_47697