Lester’s Legacy


Allow me to speak to you as a Gold Star Daughter, would you?

Being part of a Gold Star family isn’t something anyone aspires to. It’s an exclusive club, membership will cost you a life. In my case, it cost my father’s life.

He was 34.

Daddy grew up in Appalachia. He dropped out of school after the 8th grade. As one of the oldest among his eight siblings, it fell to the older boys to help provide for the younger ones, or at least, not to be a further financial burden upon his family.

His death broke my nine-year-old heart.

No matter how long I live I will never ever get over it.

Being loved by Jesus is no substitute for being loved by a daddy, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, during the fiery times of the My Lai trials of Lt. Calley, the impeachment of President Nixon, the shootings at Kent State, Watergate and Woodstock, segregation and intergration.

Whenever people carry on about how crazy the world has become, I only have to think back to my junior high school years to remember how crazy the world has always been.

Then along came Donald Trump.

Not since Lester Maddox was sworn into office as the 75th governor of the State of Georgia (1967-1971) has the political climate around a candidate been more absurd.

Maddox refused to allow blacks to eat at his restaurant, defying the law of the land. The only way a black could enter his restaurant was by working in the kitchen.


Maddox took self-righteous pride in his title as a hard-shell Baptist. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and didn’t tolerate federal intrusion into states rights.

He was a proud segregationist.

A year after he refused to allow blacks to eat at his restaurant, he was elected governor of Georgia.

I remember as a young high school girl sitting in our house on 52nd Avenue in Columbus and watching his campaign commercials. His racism shocked me even then. But even as an avowed segregationist, Maddox had the good sense to avoid any connection to the KKK. When the Klan came out with an endorsement for him, Maddox repudiated the endorsement. Calling it a “dirty trick”, Maddox claimed he didn’t even know there was a Klan in Georgia. (Insert eye roll).


I thought between Alabama’s Governor George Wallace and Georgia’s Governor Lester Maddox, I really had the seen the worst of America in politics. (Not to mention LBJ and Nixon).

Then along came Trump.

As I told my publisher this week, I can’t believe that Donald Trump is part of the everyday discussion of Americans.

He’s vulgar.

He’s mean.

He’s trashy.

He’s fool’s gold.

He’s racist.

He’s shallow.

He’s godless.

And he is in no way whatsoever fit to lead this country.

I realize that we live in a nation full of people who are racist and shallow. People who are trashy and mean. People who are vulgar and godless.

It makes my heart ache.

I blame media in part for this.

Shallow journalism has helped create a culture that is enamored with the meaningless. Journalists too lazy to do investigative reporting. A media driven by quick clicks will put up the most profane links, showcasing the size of a woman’s behind or a man’s longfellow.

Is it any wonder then than a presidential candidate feels perfectly comfortable going on national television and announcing that he is quite well-endowed when it comes to his longfellow?

We have created this culture with every click we take.

A country where Fifty Shades of Grey has been read by more people than the Gospel of John.

Remember that the next time you are tempted to condemn another nation for its lack of leadership, for its appalling treatment of women and children, the very next time you consider calling America the greatest country in the world.


And that breaks my heart as a Gold Star Daughter.

My girlfriend Patti sent me a text this week. She said she wonders what all those who have died for this country think about what is happening in our nation today.

I keep thinking of Daddy.

About the sacrifices he and millions of men and women like him made, for freedom’s sake.

I keep thinking about how poor leadership always puts young men and young women at risk.

I keep thinking about the veterans I know who survived the war but failed to escape the nightmares.

I keep thinking about the wars we have not yet waged, and the rhetoric that creates them.

I keep thinking about those graves at Arlington, and my friends buried there.

I keep thinking that surely Americans will not, cannot elect Donald Trump to be Commander-in-Chief over our troops.

But then I remember Lester Maddox was once my governor.

And I want to tell Daddy how sorry I am that all that bloodshed has come to this.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press). 


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.



about 6 years ago

By all reasonable standards, Gov. John Kasich should be running about 60 points ahead of everybody else in the polls and at the voting booth--this from a life-long mostly Democrat. We can blame TV media that he is not since he gets only minimal opportunities to speak at the travesties masquerading as "debates." However, the responsibility always comes back to us. No human beings in history have had better access to more information about candidates' policies, past performance and public statements. "Freedom" is an overused, poorly understood word. Most of our wars since the Revolution have been about security or someone else's freedom and protection from aggression, not our own. True "freedom" dies every day, every hour that it is not exercised responsibly. No military force, no veteran's death can accomplish what we won't recognize, won't exercise and won't educate ourselves to. I deeply respect and honor the service and the sacrifice of war dead, veterans and their families and loved ones. I grieve and mourn the deaths in combat, in later life, and the burdens still carried by relatives, friends and loved ones near and dear to me. I gave four years of my own life to serve. But I grieve and mourn more deeply what our "free" country seems to so readily surrender and leave unrealized. I heard the other day that the average age of voters in mayoral elections Is around 68 years. It doesn't get more local, more tangible than that. Millennials tend to vote once every four years, if then. Local, state and off-year elections? Mostly no-shows. Yet what shapes their lives and communities more? Schoolkids who might be blessed enough by a teacher who brings the issues and the choices into the classroom for discussion and thought might be far, far better informed than the average eligible voter--or the cynic who chooses to not even bother. And this is what all of the money being raised and spent has bought us? Hardly a definition of freedom or a hopeful pattern for the years to come. Citizenship is not a status if it is not both a cherished right and a formidable challenge.


Barry Alfonso

about 5 years ago

Great Stuff! I stumbled upon your site while looking up photos of the redoubtable Lester Maddox! Thanks for the wonderful/horrendous pictures and the cogent commentary!


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