Marvin Griffin

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Marvin Griffin
72nd Governor of Georgia
In office
January 11, 1955 – January 13, 1959
LieutenantErnest Vandiver
Preceded byHerman Talmadge
Succeeded byErnest Vandiver
2nd Lieutenant Governor of Georgia
In office
November 17, 1948 – January 11, 1955
GovernorHerman Talmadge
Preceded byMelvin E. Thompson
Succeeded byErnest Vandiver
Member of the Georgia General Assembly
In office
Personal details
Samuel Marvin Griffin

(1907-09-04)September 4, 1907
Bainbridge, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJune 13, 1982(1982-06-13) (aged 74)
Georgia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mary Elizabeth "Lib" Smith
Laura Jane Gibson "Lollie"
ChildrenPatricia Ann Griffin (daughter)
Samuel Marvin Griffin Jr. (son)
Alma materThe Citadel
ProfessionNewspaper publisher
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1941–1947
Rank Brigadier general
Unit Georgia National Guard
CommandsAdjutant General of Georgia
Battles/warsWorld War II

Samuel Marvin Griffin, Sr. (September 4, 1907 – June 13, 1982) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Georgia.

A lifelong Democrat, Griffin was a native of Bainbridge, Georgia and publisher of the Bainbridge Post-Searchlight. He served as the 72nd governor of Georgia from 1955 to 1959, where he supported educational segregation and opposed the integration of Georgia schools. After the end of his gubernatorial tenure, he returned to his native Bainbridge and entered the real estate business, helping to found Bainbridge College (later Bainbridge State College) in 1970. He served on the college's board of directors and died from lung cancer in 1982.

Early life and education[edit]

Griffin was born in Bainbridge, Georgia and graduated from The Citadel in 1929. At The Citadel, Griffin was a battalion commander and also played on the baseball team.[1] He taught in Virginia for a short time before moving back to Bainbridge.[1]


Georgia General Assembly and cabinet[edit]

In 1934, Griffin, a lifelong Democrat, was elected to the Georgia General Assembly. Two years later, he failed in an attempt to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. After that, he served in the administration of Governor Eurith D. Rivers, rising to the post of executive secretary. He also owned the Bainbridge radio station, WMGR, which was established in the late 1940s. The call sign was for Marvin Griffin Radio.

Military service[edit]

When the United States entered World War II, Griffin commanded a Georgia National Guard anti-aircraft battery sent to New Guinea. Griffin was a major for most of World War II and was honorably discharged as a lieutenant colonel in 1944. The next day, Governor Ellis Arnall appointed Griffin adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, where he served until 1947. During his tenure as adjutant general, Griffin was a brigadier general in the Georgia National Guard.[1]

Lieutenant Governor of Georgia[edit]

Griffin became the first Lieutenant Governor of Georgia to win office in a special election, in 1948. The first person elected as Georgia's lieutenant governor was Melvin E. Thompson, who took office in January 1947, but also claimed the office of governor after the death of Governor-elect Eugene Talmadge in December 1946. Griffin was elected to a full term in 1950.

Governor of Georgia[edit]

1954 election[edit]

Griffin was seen as the successor to Governor Herman Talmadge, and he won the governorship in 1954 before runoff elections were required in Georgia. Griffin received a plurality of 36.3 percent of the ballots cast. Melvin E. Thompson, Griffin's predecessor as lieutenant governor, trailed with 25.1 percent.[2] Another primary candidate was the later Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. As governor, Griffin was a staunch segregationist. He spoke out against the Brown v. Board of Education decision and pledged to keep Georgia's schools segregated "come hell or high water."[3]

Springhill mining disaster[edit]

In 1958, Griffin, who was a segregationist and accused of being racist, took advantage of the intense media coverage surrounding the Springhill mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada to promote tourism to his state by offering a group of survivors free vacations to Jekyll Island. However, to the segregationist governor's chagrin, one of the rescued miners was black, resulting in a public relations nightmare.[4]

1956 Sugar Bowl and rivalry with Blake Van Leer[edit]

Much controversy preceded the 1956 Sugar Bowl, where the Pitt Panthers, including African-American player Bobby Grier, were scheduled to meet the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. There was controversy over whether Grier should be allowed to play, and whether Georgia Tech should even play at all due to Governor Griffin's opposition to integration.[5] Tech president Blake R. Van Leer and coach Dodd met with Governor Marvin Griffin privately who promised to not interfere with the game.[6] However in December 1955, Griffin publicly sent a telegram to his state's Board of Regents in an attempt to pressure Georgia Tech's president Blake R. Van Leer to pull out. Griffin implored teams from Georgia not to engage in racially integrated events which had black citizens either as participants or as spectators. Van Leer rejected this request, which was not a stand to serve him well in the 1950s. Van Leer was already catching heat for pushing through a vote to allow women in Georgia Tech. Griffin also sent public telegrams to multiple news publications. Van Leer refused to back down during multiple meetings with the board of regents. In one meeting he would threaten to resign as a show of support when summoned by the board of regents.[7]

He was quoted:

Either we’re going to the Sugar Bowl or you can find yourself another damn president of Georgia Tech.

Griffin would later request that Van Leer and Georgia Tech's players be punished for student riots, followed up with an investigation request. Another state representative John P Drinkard recommended that all of Georgia Tech's state funding be cut off if they proceed and later Griffin suggested anyone who adhered to the principles of integration should not be admitted to Tech. Van Leer still stuck to his statements and later received a standing ovation from the faculty senate.[8] Two weeks after the game, Van Leer died of a heart attack on January 24, 1956 at the Atlanta Veterans Hospital.[9]

A large contingent from the New Orleans community, as well as many related to Georgia Tech, openly fought to bar either Grier, Pitt, or the Yellow Jacket team from the game. However, students, football players and Georgia Tech's president, civil rights leaders, as well as a large number of the Pitt community, succeeded in ensuring that the game took place.

Corruption charges[edit]

Griffin's term was marred by charges of corruption. According to Atlanta historian Frederick Allen, Griffin was "a man of prodigious charm and wit and also one of the most corrupt public officials ever to hold office in Georgia."[citation needed] Several administration members were found guilty of crimes and Griffin was investigated in 1960 by a grand jury, which returned no true bills.

1962 election[edit]

In 1962, Griffin ran once more for governor but lost in the primary to a moderate candidate, Carl Sanders. Griffin received 332,746 votes (39 percent) to Sanders' 494,978 (58.7 percent).[2][10] Part of the factor in Griffin's defeat was the abolishment of the county unit system, though one study found that Sanders would have won even if the county unit system had still been in place.[2][11] Thereafter, Griffin largely retired from politics. After his loss, Griffin commented, "I retired for reasons of health: the voters were sick and tired of me."[1]

In the 1966 gubernatorial race, Griffin supported Democratic nominee Lester Maddox, an Atlanta businessman known for his segregationist views. Maddox's opponent, Republican U.S. Representative Howard Callaway, had supported Griffin in the latter's 1962 campaign. As the publisher of the Post Searchlight in Bainbridge, Griffin at first indicated that he would repay Callaway for the earlier support, but he instead held firm for Maddox. "I consider Bo Callaway one of my best friends, but I can't go with him in the governor's race," Griffin said.[citation needed] Conversely, former Governor Ernest Vandiver, who as lieutenant governor from 1955 to 1959 had frequently quarreled with Governor Griffin, dismissed Maddox as "a pipsqueak" and endorsed Callaway.[12]

In 1968, Griffin was a stand-in candidate for Vice President of the United States on George C. Wallace's American Independent Party ticket. Griffin was thereafter replaced in the second slot by United States Air Force General Curtis LeMay although Griffin's name stayed on the ballot in 27 states, mostly concentrated in the Midwest.[13]

Later life and death[edit]

In 1946, Griffin's 14-year-old daughter, Patricia Ann Griffin, died in the Winecoff Hotel fire.[14]

After the end of his gubernatorial tenure, Griffin returned to his hometown of Bainbridge and went into the real estate business. His first wife died in 1970, and Griffin, who was devastated by her death, remarried to Laura Jane Gibson.[15] Griffin and his second wife both led active lives. He helped to found Bainbridge College in 1970, where classes began in 1973. He was a leading advocate and member of the college's board of directors. He also oversaw and directed the Decatur County Sesquicentennial in 1973, at which Georgia governor and future President Jimmy Carter was the honored guest. A lifelong smoker, Griffin was diagnosed with lung cancer, the disease which would eventually kill him. He was heartbroken by the death of his second wife who also died from lung cancer. He died on June 13, 1982, less than a week after his wife’s death.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Buchanan, Scott E. (2011). Some of the People Who Ate My Barbecue Didn't Vote for Me: The Life of Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin. Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 978-0-8265-1759-3.
  2. ^ a b c Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, p. 1677
  3. ^ The Strategists. Time magazine, July 12, 1954. Quote:Lieut. Governor S. Marvin Griffin of Atlanta: let city and county school boards assign each student to a school. Griffin also suggested a residency requirement to keep "foreign agitators" out of the state. "Social equality," said he, "is impossible. The schools are not going to be mixed come hell or high water."
  4. ^ Fay Greene, Melissa (2004). Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Harvest Books. ISBN 978-0-15-602957-5.
  5. ^ Mulé, Marty – A Time For Change: Bobby Grier And The 1956 Sugar Bowl Archived June 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Black Athlete Sports Network, December 28, 2005
  6. ^ Dodd, Bobby (December 30, 1984). "How to Get to Bowl Games, and then Win Them". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "A Half Century Ago, Georgia Tech Made a Racial Stand That Changed College Football Forever".
  8. ^ Jake Grantl (November 14, 2019). "Rearview Revisited: Segregation and the Sugar Bowl". Georgia Tech. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  9. ^ "Blake Van Leer, Educator, Dead; Georgia Tech President Was 62—Barred Cancellation of Bowl Game Over Negro Hailed by Faculty Basketball Game Off". The New York Times. January 24, 1956.
  10. ^ Bullock, Charles S.; Hood, M. V. (2015). "The Damnedest Mess: An Empirical Evaluation of the 1966 Georgia Gubernatorial Election". Social Science Quarterly. 96 (1): 105. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12132. hdl:10.1111/ssqu.12132.
  11. ^ Buchanan, Scott E. (1997). "The Effects of the Abolition of the Georgia County‐Unit System on the 1962 Gubernatorial Election". Politics and Policy. 25 (4): 687. doi:10.1111/j.1747-1346.1997.tb00462.x.
  12. ^ Billy Hathorn, "The Frustration of Opportunity: Georgia Republicans and the 1966 Election", Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South, XXXI (Winter 1987-1988), p. 42
  13. ^ David Leip, "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections",
  14. ^ Heys, Sam; Goodwin, Allen B. The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America's Deadliest Hotel Fire.
  15. ^ a b Buchanan, Scott E. (2011). Some of the People who Ate My Barbecue Didn't Vote for Me: The Life of Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin. Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 9780826517616.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Georgia
November 17, 1948 – January 11, 1955
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
January 11, 1955 – January 13, 1959