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Tallulah Falls city leaders wanted to increase the town’s profile, so they did the obvious: They invited Karl Wallenda—a German-born daredevil who had captivated audiences around the world with nail-biting, high-wire walks—to cross Tallulah Gorge in what some considered his riskiest stunt yet.
Georgia politics in the 1990s was like a murky twilight zone with two galaxies spinning away from each other. On one side were the remains of the old Solid Democratic South, still dominant at the beginning of the decade but best glimpsed in ghosts and caricature-like light from vanished stars. On the other side: the Solid Republican South, gathering mass and best represented by Newt Gingrich.
In the Georgia Gubernatorial Election of 1966, Lester Maddox rode a wave of resentment over the advancement of the civil rights movement and finished in a virtual tie with Republican millionaire Bo Callaway. Neither won a majority due to former Governor Ellis Arnall’s third-party candidacy. After wrangling, the Democrat-controlled Georgia legislature selected Maddox as the winner.
The notion that Muhammad Ali—a conscientious objector who was a member of the Nation of Islam—would make his comeback in the deep South at the height of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War seemed laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But thanks to one fortuitous telephone call to a local businessman—and the political savvy of State Senator Leroy Johnson—Atlanta stunned the world by granting Ali a boxing license and playing host to his return on October 26, 1970.