Marvin Griffin was Georgia’s seventy-second governor. Apart from that simple fact, virtually everything else about his career is the subject of controversy. Griffin governed at a point in the late 1950s when the state was undergoing a profound political transition from a rural-dominated, segregationist culture to a more urban landscape. As he attempted to guide Georgia through years of tumultuous change and upheaval throughout the South, Griffin developed a reputation for being inflammatory on racial issues and merciless to his political enemies.
In “Some of the People Who Ate My Barbecue Didn’t Vote for Me,” Scott Buchanan portrays Marvin Griffin as a Yellow Dog Democrat struggling against inevitable change. Griffin was viewed by many as a charismatic voice of resistance in the Georgia and the South in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. He combined a staunch segregationist approach with economically progressive policies, assisting in Georgia’s transformation from an agrarian economy to a more industrialized one.
Ironically, it was these efforts and the larger shift in politics that doomed Griffin’s career, ensuring his administration would last only one term. In many ways, Griffin stands as a clear dividing line between the Old South and the New.