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"Some of the People Who Ate My Barbecue Didn't Vote for Me"

The Life of Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin

Scott E. Buchanan

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xi

"Hold still, little catfish; all I’m gonna do is gut you.” This line from Marvin Griffin summarizes how I feel about the journey of writing this book. My initial interest in Governor Griffin stems from my master’s thesis, which examined the 1962 Georgia gubernatorial primary, Griffin’s last political hurrah. My initial exposure to Griffin came from anecdotes told to ...

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pp. 1-5

“If you didn’t want to like Marvin Griffin, don’t meet him.”1 In many ways, this one line sums up Marvin Griffin, lieutenant governor of Georgia from 1948 to 1955 and governor from 1955 to 1959. Griffin was undoubtedly one of the most humorous and controversial Georgia governors in the twentieth century. He could be strident and merciless toward his ...

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1. The Beginning

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pp. 7 -13

The Executive Mansion in those days was located where the Henry Grady Hotel is today. It was a red brick, two-story home set back about 75 feet from the sidewalk, and it was enclosed with a black, iron-picket fence. The gate of the fence had a large, shiny brass plate with the words, “Executive Mansion,” and much to my surprise, it ...

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2. From Dan to Beersheba

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pp. 15-32

Despite the idyllic pleasures of childhood, one reality for all children eventually hit young Marvin Griffin: school. However, Griffin began his school career one year later than most children. Suffering from jaundice at the age of six, Griffin did not attend first grade. Instead, his mother taught him until he was well enough to go to school in time for second grade. ...

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3. From Private to Adjutant General

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pp. 33-41

Before Marvin Griffin would advance politically in state government, war would call. Beginning in 1940, states were increasing the number of National Guard units in preparation for the possible U.S. entry into war. World War II had started in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, but the United States was still officially neutral in the war. In ...

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4. The Switch Is On

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pp. 43-52

As 1946 dawned, Marvin Griffin bowed to his ambitious nature and decided to run for governor. In March 1946, he formed a “Griffin for Governor Club” in Bainbridge, where he formally announced his candidacy. Among the platforms of his campaign were better schools, including higher teacher salaries and twelve grades (previously there had only been ...

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5. Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, Tragedy, and Controversy

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pp. 53-69

Whether because of political expediency or heartfelt desire, Marvin Griffin decided to move to the Talmadge camp in 1946. When Griffin withdrew from the gubernatorial race and announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor in May 1946, he tried to coordinate his campaign with Eugene ...

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6. The Left-Handed Pitcher

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pp. 71-86

As Marvin Griffin settled back into Bainbridge, his weekly columns in the Post-Searchlight offered an indication of his mood. Since the late 1930s, Griffin had been an absentee publisher and editor of the paper as he was intimately involved in state politics and military service. When Griffin left for Atlanta in the 1930s, Cheney Griffin became managing editor and ...

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7. From Rabun Gap to Tybee Light

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pp. 87-120

The year 1954 was Marvin Griffin’s year. After six years as Georgia’s first lieutenant governor, Griffin was prepared to make his own bid to become governor. The state constitution prohibited Herman Talmadge from run- ...

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8. Taking Care of Friends and Enemies

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pp. 121-144

Since no organized Republican Party existed in Georgia prior to the 1960s, Griffin was effectively governor-elect from the time of his Democratic primary victory in September 1954. In honor of its native son winning the governorship, Bainbridge hosted an enormous barbecue to celebrate Grif- ...

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9. Courting Armageddon

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pp. 145-153

After a successful, albeit stressful, tax session, Marvin Griffin went on a series of business recruitment trips. Another aspect of Griffin’s economic plans for Georgia was a concerted effort to attract outside industry to the ...

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10. Null and Void

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pp. 155-166

After the controversy surrounding Georgia Tech’s participation in the 1956 Sugar Bowl, the state may well have wanted a quiet respite. It would not get one, however, as the legislature convened for its regular session. Given the previous year’s tax session, the question of the state budget was largely one of where to allocate money. Ultimately, the solons would approve a ...

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11. Turpentine Those Timid Souls

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pp. 167-180

After the conclusion of legislative sessions, things normally return to a relatively quieter routine for Georgia governors. In 1956, though, Marvin Griffin did not see a return to a quieter pattern. For the next two years, Griffin would find himself to be a popular guest speaker at citizens’ councils meetings around the South. In addition to his speaking skills, Griffin’s ...

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12. The Liquor Gets a Little Thin

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pp. 181-190

In the spring of 1957, Marvin Griffin’s legacy began to form. Since he could not run for a successive term in 1958, he hoped to prepare for a triumphant return to the governor’s office in 1962. As it turned out, the close of the 1957 legislative session was the high-water mark of the Griffin administration. From that point on, the Griffin luster began to diminish ...

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13. Buggers in the Woodpile

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pp. 191-198

Marvin Griffin’s final year as governor did not get off to a smooth start in January 1958. In his annual State of the State address, Griffin informed the General Assembly and citizens of Georgia that the economy of Georgia was in good shape. He also promised no new taxes and firmly closed the door on any tax cuts. It quickly became apparent, however, that the ...

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14. The Jorees

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pp. 199-219

At the conclusion of the 1958 legislative session, Marvin Griffin went on a fishing trip, and Cheney Griffin went on a firing spree. The dismissals involved state employees deemed to be disloyal to the administration. In fact, many of the employees were members of the legislature, and almost all fired legislators were those who had voted against the second bond pro- ...

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15. Second Helpings, Anyone?

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pp. 221-241

As the 1962 campaign season rolled around, Marvin Griffin prepared for his political comeback. In early 1962 there were two acknowledged front-runners: Griffin and lieutenant governor Garland Byrd of Butler—“Tweety Byrd,” as Griffin dubbed him. In many ways the two men were very similar in their outlook and ideology. Both were conservative segrega- ...

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16. Sick and Tired

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pp. 243-254

Marvin Griffin would never hold political office again. His comeback attempt in 1962 turned out to be his last campaign for office. Griffin was not alone in being denied a second term as Georgia governor. In fact, Griffin started a trend that would be repeated by Ernest Vandiver, Carl Sanders, and Lester Maddox. All of these men sat out a term and then failed in ...


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pp. 255-273


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pp. 275-281


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pp. 283-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780826517616
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826517593

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011