Introduction to Every Leader
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
 Carter & Boyhood Home
JIMMY CARTER
39th President of the United States, 1977-1981
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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site
Georgia
 

Boyhood Farm Outbuildings
Boyhood Farm Outbuildings
National Park Service

“The early years of my life on the farm were full and enjoyable, isolated but not lonely. We always had enough to eat, no economic hardship, but no money to waste. We felt close to nature, close to members of our family, and close to God.” - Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, still makes his home in Plains, the small Georgia farm town where he was born.  As he did during his presidency, he returns to his roots here for rejuvenation while continuing his work as humanitarian and peace seeker. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains includes the farm where he spent his boyhood, the Plains High School he attended, and the train depot that served as headquarters for his 1976 presidential campaign.  Although he came to office after a brilliantly run political campaign, Carter distrusted politics.  He relied on the strong moral convictions that he learned in Plains to help him find actions that would best benefit the whole country regardless of political party.  He made considerable progress toward his goal of making government “competent and compassionate” during his single term but could not overcome energy crises, record inflation, and international conflict.

Jimmy Carter's parents
Earl and Lillian Carter
National Park Service

Born in 1924 in Plains, James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr., was the first of Earl and Lillian Carter’s four children. When he was four years old, the Carter family moved to a farm in the small community of Archery, two and one-half miles away.  The Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm is part of the National Historic Site.  The day the family moved to the farm was memorable. Earl Carter had forgotten the key and Jimmy crawled through a window to unlock the front door.  Although the house used fireplaces and wood stoves for heat and had no indoor plumbing or electricity, it was a typical middle class rural dwelling for the 1920s.  Earl Carter raised cotton, corn, and sugar cane with the aid of tenant farmers and was one of the first in the area to experiment with growing peanuts.  He also sold canned goods, coffee, kerosene, overalls, and a large variety of other useful items in the country store/commissary near the house.  Jimmy and his African American playmates helped in the fields, and Jimmy sold bags of boiled peanuts on the streets of “metropolitan” Plains for a nickel.  His parents raised their children to value education, community service, the Baptist Church, and each other.  Jimmy Carter lived on the farm until he went away to college in 1941.

Carter attended the Plains High School from first grade through his graduation in 1941.  He quoted Miss Julia Coleman, one of his teachers and an intellectual and cultural inspiration to him, in his presidential inaugural address.  After graduation, he attended Georgia Southwestern College and Georgia Tech University briefly before receiving an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.  He came home to marry Rosalynn Smith on July 7, 1946 in the Plains United Methodist Church.  He served in the Navy for seven years following his graduation from the Naval Academy, resigning his commission in 1953 to take over the family peanut business after his father died.  His income of $200 that first year was so low that he qualified to move into a low-income housing project in Plains.  He and Rosalynn lived there for a year but soon turned the Golden Peanut Company into a successful production and processing business.

Following his father’s example, Jimmy Carter became involved in civic, church, and fraternal affairs, but refused to join the local segregationist White Citizens' Council. A lifelong Democrat, Carter entered the political arena in 1962. After a strenuous contest, he won a seat in the State senate and held it for two terms. He showed special interest in education and election reform.  Carter abandoned plans to run for the United States House of Representatives to seek the governorship in 1966. Although he failed on his first attempt, he succeeded four years later.  During his term as governor, he reorganized the State government, worked for conservation, and attracted national attention as a moderate on civil rights.

The Plains Depot
The Plains Depot
1976 Presidential Campaign Headquarters
National Park Service

Carter’s decision to leap from governor to presidential candidate was a bold one.  In a cross-country grassroots campaign, he gained support from a public looking for change after the scandals that had shaken the nation.  His surprise success in the Iowa Democratic caucus began a phenomenal rise that confounded the political experts who thought his quest was hopeless.  The downtown Plains train depot, which served the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad from 1888 to 1951, became Carter’s local campaign headquarters.  Approximately 10,000 people a day came to Plains to find out about this unknown candidate, and Carter’s friends and neighbors gathered outside the depot to celebrate his many successes in State primaries.  The Democratic National Convention made Carter their presidential nominee on the first ballot.  The depot, now a museum, was again the site of a celebration on his election as president in November 1976.

Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford by a relatively narrow but conclusive margin in both popular and electoral votes. He is the first president from Georgia and the first elected directly from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor in 1848.   Dramatizing his break with tradition, Carter and his family walked hand in hand down Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration at the Capitol, to the cheers of the watching crowds.

As President Carter took office, he stressed his plans to fight “stagflation” by both stimulating the economy and attacking inflation.  He succeeded in adding millions of new jobs and reducing the budget deficit but could not control inflation, which reached record rates.  He developed new policies to fight the energy shortage, expanded civil service reform, and sought to protect the environment.  He appointed record numbers of women, African Americans, and Hispanics to government jobs and strengthened the Social Security system.  In 1977, Carter pardoned young men who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.  This controversial decision, combined with his unwillingness to work within the traditional party system, brought him into conflict with Congress.

In foreign policy, his support for human rights complicated his negotiations with the Soviet Union and other foreign states.  His greatest success was the Camp David accords of 1978, which brought about a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt and a reduction of tensions in the Middle East.  His greatest failure was his inability to free the American Embassy staff members taken hostage by the new Islamic regime in Iran.  The 14-month long hostage crisis, plus the continuing ruinous inflation, led to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980.  He continued to negotiate with Iran after his defeat, however, and obtained the release of the hostages hours before the end of his term.  He and his wife flew to Germany to greet them.

Carter accepting the Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace acceptance Plains, Georgia
National Park Service

Retiring from public office, Jimmy Carter returned to Plains.  He continues to work as a humanitarian with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity, participates in Middle East peace negotiations, and has written several books.  In 2002, Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his "decades of untiring efforts to find peaceful solution to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."

The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site consists of three parts.  The Plains High School serves as the park visitor center and museum.  Visitors find a restored and furnished classroom, principal's office, and auditorium, and exhibits on Carter’s life and accomplishments.  His friends, neighbors, and family talk about the Jimmy Carter they know on a 25-minute video.  The Plains Depot is a self-guided museum with exhibits focusing on the 1976 presidential campaign.  The Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm, two and half miles from downtown Plains, offers an intimate look at Carter’s childhood.  The National Park Service has restored the Carter house to its appearance before the installation of electricity in 1938.  Other restored features include the commissary/country store, the barn, the blacksmith shop, two tenant houses, a buggy shed, and a windmill.  Heritage crops of cotton, peanuts, sugar cane, and corn grow in the fields and the gardens still provide vegetables for the table.  Visitors can hear Jimmy Carter share stories about his childhood at audio stations along a walking path around the farm.

The Jimmy Carter Preservation District includes a number of other buildings in Plains that are associated with the peanut farmer turned president.  Jimmy Carter was born at the Lillian G. Carter Nursing Center, the first president born in a hospital.  Visitors can see the public housing where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter lived for a year.  Ghost stories shroud the 1850 house they rented from 1956 to 1961.  Family members lie buried in the Lebanon Cemetery on the road to the Boyhood Farm.  Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church, when he is in town.

Plan your visit

The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located in Plains, GA, 10 miles west of Americus on US 280.  It is free to the public. The historic site is open daily except on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  Visits should begin at the Plains High School at 300 North Bond St., which houses the park's visitor center and museum. The Plains High School Visitor Center and Museum is open from 9:00am to 5:00 pm. The Train Depot Museum is open from 9:00am to 4:30pm. The Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm.  Walking tours of the farm are led on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30am and 3:30pm.  The Carter Private Residence and Compound is not open to the public.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Jimmy Carter National Historic Site website or call 229-824-4104.

More than 20 buildings in the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site & Preservation District have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Many are documented individually including  Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home Tenant House, Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home, Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home Commissary, Rosalynn Carter Childhood Home,  Plains School, and the Jimmy Carter House.

 
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