Our Georgia History

James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.

Born:October 1, 1924, Plains, Georgia

Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter grew up in rural Georgia during the Depression, the son of a farmer (James Sr.) and a nurse (Lillian). He attended Georgia Southwestern College and Georgia Tech, finally receiving a B. S. from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1947. On July 7, 1947, Carter married his sweetheart, Rosalyn Smith.

Admiral Hyman Rickover personally selected him for the crew of the Seawolf, the second nuclear sub (first was Nautilus). He would serve under Rickover for the final two years of his career in the Navy, working as engineering officer on the nuclear sub. With the death of his father in 1953, Carter returned to Georgia to run the family business.

Over a ten-year period Jimmy Carter proved an able manager as he grew his family's agricultural business. In addition to his father's peanut business, he expanded by starting a fertilizer business, adding a cotton gin, and increasing the number of acres he owned and leased. Additionally, when a White Business Council was formed in Plains, the future President refused to join. The council attempted to force Carter to join by boycotting his many businesses, but he persevered and the members of the council eventually gave up the boycott. In 1955 Jimmy was elected to the Sumter County Board of Education. During this time he supported the consolidation of area schools to save money. Some people were afraid this might lead to integration and the proposal was defeated. This led to his further involvement in politics.

In 1962 a new district was added to the Georgia Senate and Jimmy Carter saw his opportunity to move his ideas forward at a state level. After losing the primary, Carter challenged the results in court. Gross mismanagement of the election returns was proven and a recount, after eliminating dead and imprisoned voters proved Jimmy Carter to be the nominee of the Democratic Party three days before the general election. Carter defeated his Republican opponent by less than 1,000 votes.

Trying to push forward with his agenda of a racially integrated South without completely alienating the existing power structure was a difficult proposition. As a result was viewed as having a mixed record on integration. His early pro-environment stand also alienated voters. In spite of this, Jimmy was re-elected to a second term in 1964.

For 10 minutes on January 6, 1969, Jimmy Carter witnessed an unidentified flying object in the skies near Leary, in southwestern Georgia. On a starry night just after dusk, a single, self-luminous object about 30 degrees above the horizon that Carter estimated to be about 300-1000 yards away hovered, changed course and direction, then disappeared.

Prior to Carter becoming governor, Georgia's politicians had become increasingly out of step not only with the populace of the state, but the nation as well. As America became integrated, politicians who supported segregation reflected the position of fewer and fewer of their constituents. Carter's election represented a radical change from the previous governor(s). By the end of his term in 1975 he had shaped the state government into a modern machine, tearing down the barriers of almost 100 years of segregation.

From the Governor's Mansion in Atlanta, Carter watched as George McGovern's campaign for president crashed and burned. He felt that just as his predecessors' campaigns had been out of step with Georgians, McGovern's liberalism was out of step with America. On election night, 1972, Carter began to plan a run for president. Four years later he defeated Gerald Ford, becoming the 39th President of the United States and ending the most meteoric climb in modern American politics. It was such a stunning political miracle that Time Magazine selected Carter as its "Man of the Year" for 1976.

Inauguration of Jimmy CarterDuring his run for president, Jimmy alienated many of the old-line Democrats. He had no insider experience in Washington; he was from the "Deep South"; and many party regulars did not share his political viewpoints. To offset some of the critics Carter selected Walter Mondale, an established Washington insider, as his running mate. Just as he revolutionized the Democratic Party in Georgia, Carter revolutionized politics on a national level. Since his election more than 25 years ago each president with the exception of George Bush (1989-1993) has been governor of his home state, normally with few ties to Washington. This "outsider" movement continues to have repercussions as the strength of the republic grows while the legislative branches tend to play an increasingly smaller role.

Jimmy Carter creates the Chattahoochee River National Recreation AreaCarter continued Ford's work of repairing America after the Watergate scandal that terminated the Nixon presidency. He also tried to structure a peaceful world. Among the highlights of his presidential career:

  • Dealing with the national energy crisis
  • Improving the National Parks System
  • Creating the Department of Education
  • Championing human rights

By 1980 the economy had taken a turn for the worse and inflation was rampant. Hostilities in Afghanistan destroyed most of his work on SALT II nuclear arms limitation treaty. And daily pictures of Americas being held hostage in Iran contributed to his defeat in 1980, by Republican Ronald Reagan's landslide victory.

Jimmy Carter still lives his ideals, using his talents to help others and the United States. Time and again Carter's talents were put to use in the Clinton Administration, helping resolve issues in North Korea, Bosnia, and Haiti. It was Jimmy Carter at his finest, turning the other cheek to Bill Clinton who heavily criticized Jimmy personally during the 1992 campaign.

Carter also built a life of contributing to society, as a carpenter building a Habitat for Humanity home, as a son dedicating a new Nursing Center in Plains to his mother, or simply teaching class in Sunday-school.

Continuing Georgia's legacy of peace that includes Martin Luther King and Teddy Roosevelt, James Earl "Jimmy" Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in December, 2002 "...for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."

Jimmy Carter Timeline

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