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Friday, January 4, 2013

Jimmy Carter Museum

Our first stop in Atlanta was the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum, something both Katrina and I have been looking forward to.  This is the second presidential library for me, but the fourth for Katrina because she went to JFK's library on her spring break this year and last year she went on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage as part of a class at UWEC and they visited Clinton's library while in Little Rock.

I'm going to deviate from my usual style a bit on this post and have more emphasis on written information than photos.  If you're not in the mood for a history lesson you might want to skim through, but I'll try to be as succinct as possible and there will be a few personal tidbits thrown in to make it less dry.

Carter's library was laid out very well, and we saw a little bit about his childhood before backtracking and watching the movie which was narrated by Martin Sheen.  The movie was incredible, and I had to hold back tears a few times.  It was difficult times during Carter's presidency, but the first thing that brought me to tears was their description of his early life in the south. The Carters owned a peanut farm and even though they were living in the segregated south Jimmy learned by example of his parents that the current racial conditions were not morally acceptable.  Jimmy's mother was a former nurse and crossed the then-strict lines of segregation in 1920s Georgia by counseling poor African American women on matters of health care. Jimmy grew up playing with and working alongside the black children of the tenant farmers and these days influenced his sudden decision to enter into politics and stand up for civil rights issues.

His enjoyment of and concerns for the environment, his farming expertise, his keen business sense, and his later interest in civil rights were developed as he mopped cotton, hunted doves, worked in the fields, raised stock, operated his father's store on the farm, and interacted with his father's employees.

For more on his childhood days see this great site or this one!

Jimmy was an excellent student, and his interest in the Navy began as a boy reading the letters home from his Uncle Tom Gordy. After high school he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and began a long career in the Navy.  It was during this time that he met his wife, Rosalynn and they were married in 1946.  Lieutenant Carter chose submarine duty, and was satisfied with his Naval career. When his father died of cancer in 1953 he decided to resign from the Navy and go home to help his family run the peanut farm which was in danger of being lost.

While never intending to become involved in politics, eventually the events in the south of the time pushed him to come forward in the political arena. He was disturbed by Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver's proclamation that "No, not one" black child would be admitted into a white school.
When a new seat in the Georgia State Senate opened up because of federally ordered reapportionment in 1962, Carter entered that race. Initially defeated in the Democratic primary, he was able to prove that his opponent's victory was based on widespread vote fraud. He appealed the result and a judge threw out the fraudulent votes, and Carter was handed the election.  This experience of corruption in our political system was very upsetting to Carter and is one of the reasons why the Carter Center helps other countries monitor their elections.

Jimmy Carter Biography Photo
 Carter lost his first race for Governor of Georgia in 1966, defeated by arch-segregationist Lester Maddox, but won when he ran 4 years later.   In his inaugural address he said, "I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.  The test of a government is not how popular it is with the powerful and privileged few, but how honestly and fairly it deals with the many who must depend on it."  Powerful words that I believe applied during our last election!  He increased the number of African American state employees by 40 percent and hung portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and other notable black Georgians in the state capitol. He equalized the funding of schools in rich and poor districts of the state, and created new educational facilities for prisoners and the developmentally disabled.

 He was relatively unknown when he was nominated by the Democratic party to run against President Ford in the 1976 election, but due to heavy state-to-state campaigning and a good showing in the debates he was victorious. His down to earth style was out of place compared to previous Presidents, and he continued to teach Sunday school classes while in Washington D.C. and even sent his daughter Amy to public school.  I was only 10 years old myself during this time, and Amy is what I remember the most.  I remember having a mock election at our school...Carter won there, too!

Katrina has an affection for campaign buttons, and I enjoy seeing how they change over the decades myself.  Here's a great website if you want to know more about this topic.

This list of his accomplishments is long...and this post is starting to get a bit long as well, so I'll make a list and if you want to know more I encourage you to look it up.  We were especially impressed with his work in civil rights, and his efforts at establishing peace, but he was also a strong champion of preserving our natural resources and you can thank him for much of the public land you enjoy in Alaska, including Denali and Katmai.  In 1980, after years of congressional debate, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, into law. Often called the most significant land conservation measure in the history of our nation, the statute protected over 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska, doubling the size of the country’s national park and refuge system and tripling the amount of land designated as wilderness. In the year 2000 the Alaska Wilderness League marked the 20th anniversary of this legislation by giving him a caribou sculpture which was on display outside of the museum.

Here is that promised list of his Presidential accomplishments, but don't forget about all the work he and his wife have done through the Carter Center for people all around the world!

  • Established the Department of Energy
  • Human Rights became the foundation of foreign policy
  • National security and interests protected peacefully
  • More women, African Americans, and Hispanics appointed as federal judges than in all previous administrations
  • Mental Health Commission report
  • Panama Canal Treaties enacted
  • Camp David Accords
  • Egyptian Israeli Peace Treaty - helped establish peach between Israel and Egypt
  • Salt II Treaty signed
  • Diplomatic relations with China normalized
  • Mental Health Systems Act passed and funded
  • Alaska lands legislation enacted
  • Comprehensive energy legislation enacted - reduced consumption of oil by 1.8 million barrels per day!
  • Superfund legislation enacted to control toxic wastes
  • All American hostages in Iran returned safely - this I remember as well!

The Congressional Quarterly reported in 2008 that since 1953 Lydon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy were the top three presidents in gaining support for their legislative proposals. Pretty impressive stuff!


  1. Excellent summary. Carter generally gets a bad rap. He is one of the few presidents who has done something meaningful with his life after the presidency, rather than retire to some ranch.

  2. Even though I wasn't old enough to vote when he was in office, I always liked Jimmy Carter. I didn't realize all he accomplished during his presidency. Thanks for the great, informative post!