Friday, March 17, 2017

Jimmy's Town

While we were visiting Habitat for Humanity's headquarters in Americus, Georgia, Tim and I drove ten miles west to Jimmy's town, otherwise known as Plains, Georgia.

Immediately after crossing the city limits of Plains, there's a National Park Service sign that says you are entering Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.  What?  Yes, the whole town of Plains is a national park honoring the 39th President of the United State, James Earl Carter, Jr., affectionately known as Jimmy.

Tim and I began our tour at the town's former high school, now the Welcome Center of the park.  Folding down a wooden seat in the school auditorium, we settled in to watch a video about the former president, the hometown hero whose name is splashed all around town, from the banner over the General Store to the paint job of the town's one police car.

And to think that if his wife Rosalynn had had her way, her husband Jimmy, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, would have stayed in the Navy where he drew a decent salary with opportunities for both of them to travel the world.

Instead, a phone call informing them that his father, James Earl Carter, Sr., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer summoned them home.

Plains Peanut & Grain was formerly owned by the Carters.

Initially, they moved into project housing on the north end of town then rented a series of rental homes until their peanut warehouse began to show a profit. 

Rosalynn became a charter member of the Plains Garden Club while Jimmy joined numerous civic organizations and served on the town's school board.  He voted to consolidate schools in 1961 even when that meant the integration of black and white students.  The referendum was defeated, but served as the catalyst to Carter's political career. 

That's Tim sitting in the replica of President Carter's Oval Office.

In 1962, he ran for state senate and was defeated, but blatant election fraud by his opponent overturned the voting results, allowing him to take office.  Four years later he tried to become Georgia's governor, but lost only to try again in 1970 and win.  Carter reorganized state government, championed civil rights and waged war on crime and corruption, thus setting the stage for his national presidential campaign.  

Jimmy's Boyhood Home

Pretty heady stuff for a boy who grew up in a farmhouse without plumbing or electricity and who worked the fields alongside African American day laborers.

Jimmy's father imparted his love of tennis to his son during games played on the farm's tennis court.

"Mopping" cotton was a job Carter hated, but it had to be done to rid the fields of bool weevils.  Young boys like Carter mixed arsenic with molasses and water, then walked the rows with buckets and a rag mop, daubing sticky poison onto the cotton buds.  "It was a job for boys and not men, and we despised this task.  After a few hours in the field our trousers, legs and bare feet would be saturated with the syrupy mess," wrote Carter in his 1975 autobiography, Why Not the Best.  (Hmm!  That reminded me of my childhood when I pulled rye from the wheat of our farm in Kansas, only that wasn't quite as messy, just an itchy, seemly never-ending task.)

Local townspeople ran Jimmy's presidential campaign from the former Plains train depot, chosen because it was empty and had a bathroom.  Ninety-eight Georgians nicknamed "The Peanut Bridgade" flew to New Hampshire in January 1976 to campaign door-to-door in below-zero temperatures.  Running as a populist, an outsider and a man of integrity, Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

When his single term of office as President ended, Carter and his wife returned to their roots in Plains.  They became members of Maranatha Baptist Church located on the outskirts of town.  The church does not have a janitorial service; instead, members, including the Carters, take turns cleaning the church and mowing the lawn.  Former president Carter at age 93 still teaches a Sunday School class that attracts visitors from all over the country.

Can you catch a glimpse of the Carters' home?

A Secret Service gatehouse bars the entrance to the street where the Carters even now live in the home they built in the mid-1960s.  None of the townspeople we met considered that extraordinary.  After all, this is Jimmy's town.

1 comment:

  1. That looks like an interesting stop on your journey.