His political struggles did not deter him personally; on the contrary, he proved his critics and detractors wrong. Rather than sulk and dwell on the embarrassment he and his family endured, Jimmy used his rocky past to create a better future.
During his presidency, Carter focused on encouraging the American people to live modestly, and he certainly practiced what he preached. He may be the thriftiest president the United States ever elected! Unnecessary expenses made him upset, for example, and the life he led during his presidency was far from luxurious.
Peacekeeping topped the list of what he hoped to accomplish during his term. While he was lauded in the global scene, his own people despised him for doing nothing [seemingly] about the economic unrest that America was experiencing. President Carter was judged for the way he handled the growing inflation, rising unemployment, the bombing in Afghanistan and the Iran-hostage crisis.
After recovering from the Vietnam War, Carter was, in a way, unfortunate to become the president of a nation still convalescing from such a bloody battle. It was not that he was ineffective; Jimmy was overwhelmed with problems that needed immediate attention, and it was a situation that even the most experienced leaders would struggle to handle.
Jimmy Carter was greatly misunderstood and judged closely by the choices he made. Perhaps it’s time people understand that he always did what he thought was best for his country. It was his very spirit of perseverance that made him one of the most extraordinary leaders in American history.
Founding the “Carter Center”
One year after relinquishing the presidency to his Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy promptly began thinking of ways to better serve his country without holding a political position. Hence, the “Carter Center” was established with the help of his ever-supportive wife, Rosalynn.
They worked together to raise the required funds for the Carter Center to become a reality. Now over 30 years since its inauguration, the Center continues to play a key role in mediating between warring nations and monitoring elections around the world. Jimmy and Rosalynn, the oldest living ex-President and ex-First Lady, still enthusiastically serve the United States of America.
Georgian farmer James Earl Carter, Sr. married a nurse, Lillian Gordy, in 1923. Lillian gave birth to their firstborn, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., on 1 October 1924 in Plains, Georgia. Two years later, she gave birth to their first daughter, Gloria. When she again became pregnant a few years later, Earl brought the family to Archery for good. Unlike Plains, Archery was “sleepy” and surrounded by acres upon acres of peanut plantations, and it was there where Lillian would give birth to Ruth in 1929. Her final pregnancy was eight years later – William Alton “Billy” Carter II was born in 1937.
Earl’s plantation soon became a steady source of income for the family, as well as for the five African-American families who depended on them for regular wages in exchange for tending their farms. Jimmy learned the value of hard work at a very young age; as the eldest of the siblings, his father often relied on him to help on the farm. Jimmy admired his father’s idealism and the way he commanded respect.
For a long time, Jimmy had no other ambition but to please his father. His mother Lillian, however, was also an inspiration to him and his siblings. She was different from other white nurses, as she found great joy in helping their poor black neighbours. Whenever she helped a sick farmer, Lillian would certainly be paid in kind.
Jimmy grew up with African-American children for playmates and absolutely no notion of racial discrimination. In his young eyes, they were only other children. When he was old enough to attend school, his parents then sent him to an all-white Baptist institution. He was an exceptional student, earning straight-A’s in most of his subjects. It was in grade school when he started to dream of joining the Navy. His mother’s brother, Tom Gordy, had been a member of the U.S. Navy.
Tom would often send postcards to his nephew, enabling Jimmy to see a bigger and brighter world outside of Georgia. Earl also encouraged his son’s dream. Everyone who knew Jimmy was certain that the boy would go a long way; he was a voracious reader and a quick thinker.
When he got to high school, Jimmy attended a public school in Plains. He was thrilled because, at last, he saw shops and could mingle with kids other than those at the farm. As in elementary, Jimmy breezed through high school; he excelled especially in history, literature, and music – his favorite subjects. Tall and athletic, Jimmy also became the school’s basketball star.
Marriage and Naval Career
In 1942, he graduated from Plains High School and enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College while waiting for his application to be approved for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He also took courses in Mathematics at the Georgia Institute of Technology to better prepare for the Navy’s examinations. Then, his dream of entering the Navy finally came true in 1943. In three years’ time, Jimmy became a Lieutenant, graduating 59th in a class of 820.
Prior to his graduation from the United States Naval Academy, he took notice of Rosalynn Smith, Ruth’s best friend, and Rosalynn liked Jimmy from the moment she saw him; she was simply too shy to let her feelings be known. A devout Christian herself, Rosalynn’s pastimes included reading the Bible, attending church and serving in their ministry. She was only 18 years old when the two began dating.
A month after Jimmy became a Lieutenant [in 1946], he married Rosalynn and the two started a family in Norfolk, Virginia. Their eldest, John William, or “Jack,” was born that year. James Earl II, or “Chip,” was born four years later, and was followed by Donnel Jeffrey, or “Jeff,” in 1952. Amy Lynn, their only daughter and the youngest of the children, would not be born until 1967.
The Navy soon became Jimmy’s top priority. Rosalynn, being a young mother, often felt depressed and inadequate to take care of her four children. She was left on her own frequently while Jimmy was preoccupied with work.
His first profession in the Navy was as an electronics instructor. Things got more exciting after he was deployed at sea to serve on the U.S.S. Wyoming and later on the U.S.S. Mississippi. He also underwent submarine training, completing the course in December 1948. This allowed him to receive assignments on the U.S.S. Pomfret, and he joined the crew of U.S.S. K-1 in 1952.
He was then appointed Engineering Officer of the nuclear submarine “Sea Wolf Vanguard of America,” where he served under Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Captain Rickover would later become one of the most influential figures in Jimmy’s life. According to the latter, his experience working with Captain Rickover helped shape his stand on nuclear power.
Back to Georgia
It had been ten years since he left Georgia to pursue his dream. But, in 1953, his hopes of rising through the U.S. Navy ranks came crashing down after he received a letter containing the news of his father’s terminal illness. He immediately left for Georgia to be with Earl in his last days.
While looking after his sick father, Jimmy discovered how loved Earl was; he had been visited by people from all over Georgia. It left a profound impression on Jimmy, and he began thinking about his own life and his priorities. He asked himself, if God would take his life at any moment, would a lot of people care the way they cared about his father?
His father passed away later that year. By the time Earl was buried, Jimmy had already made up his mind about leaving the Navy and running his father’s farm. It did not sit well with his younger brother [Billy], however, who was not used to having him around.
Rosalynn was not thrilled, either. She had always dreamt of going places, ever since she was a young girl. Managing Earl’s peanut farm would mean spending their entire life in Georgia. It took an entire year before she forgave Jimmy for bringing the family back to Plains. The kids, however, adored the farm; Chip, like his father, loved playing with the black kids.
In 1954, the government outlawed the Segregation Law, much to the fury of white segregationists. The White Citizens Council’s campaign then reached Georgia in 1955. Being one of the most influential landowners in his part of the state, Jimmy was approached by the members of said organization, who asked if he would be interested in joining the movement. He declined, and the Carters lost valuable customers as a result.
Growing their Peanut Business
Jimmy had gained some engineering experience when he was in the Navy, and realized that his peanut business could, if packaged and marketed well, become a lucrative industry. In order to optimize his farm’s business potential, he enrolled at Experiment Station in Tifton to study modern farming, and also read books on canning. Turning to Rosalynn for help, he asked her to manage their accounting books; she complied and eventually learned to love the business.
By the late 1950s, the Carters had turned their ancient peanut farm into a bankable investment. They purchased equipment regularly and continued working to improve the quality of their products. While Jimmy ran the business, he also served as deacon and taught Sunday-school at Plains Baptist Church. He also sat on the board of the Sumter County Board of Education from 1955 to 1962.
From Businessman to Politician
It was very exciting for the couple at first, but Jimmy was only thrilled for a short while. He soon became bored and searched for new areas where he could channel his skills. Politics soon beckoned him. One afternoon in 1962, he woke up and ecstatically told his wife that he would run for Senator. Fortunately, the Democratic Party was willing to back him up.
Election Day came, and Jimmy was horrified to see Joe Hurst, the Sheriff of Quitman County, coercing the locals into voting for the Republican candidate. When the results came, Jimmy had only a dismal percentage of the vote.
He promptly took his case to the media and appealed to have the votes re-counted. Jimmy lobbied for the people to issue an affidavit to condemn the terrible practice of politicians in their county. Two weeks later, a judge heard the case and, in 1963, Jimmy Carter was sworn into the Senate. He was re-elected in 1964 and then served an additional two-year term.
From Politician to Evangelist
In 1966, he decided to run for Governor of Georgia. The Democratic Party supported him, but he lost to his Republican rival. It was a wake-up call – not only for him, but for his entire family. His sister, Ruth, comforted him by telling him the greatest motivation is to have a sincere desire to serve the Lord.
He realized that he was not doing enough as a born-again Christian; with renewed faith, he began seriously studying the Bible and reading the works of its scholars about leadership, governance and politics. He also revitalized his quiet time and went on a full-blown witnessing campaign. For four years, he knocked zealously on front doors to tell as many people as he could about salvation.
Becoming Governor and President
In 1970, Jimmy found a new sense of direction. He ran for Governor and was successful in his second bid. Four years later, the Watergate Scandal shook the presidency of Richard Nixon, prompting him to resign as President of the United States. The presidency was then turned over to his Vice President, Gerald Ford. Jimmy took advantage of the disillusionment of the American people and ran for President in 1976. He won against the Incumbent President by a margin of 1,678,069 votes.
Jimmy’s tenure in the White House was not easy for him or his faithful wife, Rosalynn; the country was still reeling from the depression and turmoil caused by the Vietnam War. The price of gasoline peaked at its most expensive during the first half of his term. Employment opportunities were stalled by inflation and the crash of the stock market. Simply put, the American economy - for the first time in a long time - was in trouble.
Jimmy did his best to raise the morale of the people by appealing to their emotions. He encouraged them to cut back on expenses and adjust with the economy’s downturn. The people were enraged by the President’s apparent “lack of action.” Matters were made even worse when 53 American staff members at the American Embassy in Iran were taken and held hostage by student activists. In addition, the bombing in Afghanistan betrayed Jimmy’s call for peace – the primary focus of his administration.
The Camp David Accords
Jimmy was more successful in the international scene due to his triumphant Camp David Accords, which fostered a diplomatic agreement between perennial enemies Israel and Egypt; he mediated between the two leaders and even drafted the agreement himself. Alongside the Panama Canal Treaty, it was his greatest achievement as President.
The Rabbit Attack
However, the American people were far too enmeshed in their day-to-day struggles that these accomplishments were, perhaps, given less recognition than they deserved. To the public, Carter simply was not doing enough to alleviate the nation’s most pressing problems.
It did not help, either, that photos of him boating alone were leaked to the public. The press used it as an angle to show how his presidency could be threatened by a “rabbit.” According to a story published by Mental Floss: “Carter backed off the whole "beat the animal with a paddle" part, explaining that he merely splashed water on the (killer) creature. He ordered a print of the photo, and later an enlargement, to prove his killer rabbit story. "It just played up the Carter flake factor," Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley recalled. "I mean, he had to deal with Russia and the Ayatollah and here he was supposedly fighting off a rabbit.”
Back to Georgia again
The 1980 elections confirmed how the public felt about Jimmy’s leadership: Ronald Reagan, his Republican contender, won in a landslide victory.
The Carters left the White House and headed back to their Georgia home, only to learn that their farm was in serious debt. While serving as a public official, Jimmy placed his Georgia property in a blind trust to avoid a conflict of interest. The trustees, however, failed to efficiently manage his peanut business, and he was back to square one. A sense of déjà vu swept over him; for a time, he wondered why he even bothered to run for office. People avoided him. His presidency was deemed a failure by the media. Even Richard Nixon, Watergate Scandal and all, fared better and earned higher approval ratings than he did.
Founding the Carter Center
Jimmy was left in a quandary. Was it his fault that his country suffered? Or was he, like the rest of the American people, a victim of bad circumstances? Having little to do, Jimmy again had plenty of time to reflect. Surely, he thought, there must be a reason why he was not re-elected. One early morning, Rosalynn found him wide awake at 3 a.m. She was bothered because, even when he was President, nothing made Jimmy restless.
Then he told his worried wife about his plan. He wanted to use his farm for a non-government project, something which could be used as a venue for mediation. He wanted to build something where matters of state issues would be tackled without having to answer to government officials. In 1982, Ronald Reagan inaugurated Jimmy’s and Rosalynn’s new project: the Carter Center.
On their webpage, the five key principles of the Carter Center were enumerated as the following:
1. “The Center emphasizes action and results. Based on careful research and analysis, it is prepared to take timely action on important and pressing issues.
2. The Center does not duplicate the effective efforts of others.
3. The Center addresses difficult problems and recognizes the possibility of failure as an acceptable risk.
4. The Center is nonpartisan and acts as a neutral in dispute resolution activities.
5. The Center believes that people can improve their lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources.” (Source: Carter Center)
Habitat for Humanity Helps Victims of Disasters
Alongside the Carter Center, Jimmy and Rosalynn also founded “Habitat for Humanity.” Although it was not widely-known, the ex-President is also an able carpenter; he has travelled from state to state in the past to help people rebuild their homes. No other president, then or now, has gone so low to win back the trust of the people who lost confidence in him.
Habitat for Humanity International is “a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian housing ministry. Habitat welcomes all people—regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or any other difference—to build and repair simple, decent, affordable houses with those who lack adequate shelter.” (Source: Habitat for Humanity)
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize
In 2002, Jimmy became the first U.S. President to receive the Nobel Peace Prize following the end of his administration. He was recognized for his efforts in forging diplomatic relations, and acknowledged for his continuous efforts to serve his country and all of humanity.
Since its inauguration, the Carter Center has contributed continuously to the country’s peacekeeping undertakings. Jimmy now has enough time to go to places where he believes peace and order must be fostered. In Vietnam, for example, he launched the “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project” in 2009, which led to the building of 32 houses for the people of Dong Xa.
The U.S.S. Jimmy Carter
In 2004, a Seawolf-class submarine was named after Carter to honour his contributions to the United States Navy. According to Wikipedia, “USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) is the third and last Seawolf-class submarine, is the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who served in the United States Navy as a Communications Officer, Sonar Officer, Electronics Officer, Weapons Officer, and Supply Officer while on board USS Pomfret.”
Joining “The Elders” and the Oldest-living Presidential Couple
Jimmy is currently a member of “The Elders,” an international organization founded by South African ex-President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel. He has received several honorary degrees from prestigious universities, both at home and abroad. At almost 90 years old, Jimmy Carter is considered the oldest surviving president and his wife, Rosalynn, the oldest surviving First Lady.
Books and Fatherhood
Of the 23 books Jimmy Carter has released, he authored 21 of them. His book “Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis” even made it to the New York Times Bestsellers list. Despite his age, the ex-President still paints and makes furniture to help raise funds for the Carter Center. And his loving wife Rosalynn continues, just as she has for many years, to urge him on and inspire him to run the good race. Jimmy has enjoyed longstanding relationships with his wife and children, who have grown up to become proud and productive American citizens.
His eldest son, Jack, took after him and became a politician. Chip was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 1992, and was well-loved for his active civic work. Amy, the youngest, is an activist and also illustrated her father’s children’s book, “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer.” Amy has maintained a low-profile image, unlike Chip, since her marriage to computer analyst James Gregory Wentzel.
In spite of his relentless faith, Jimmy did not have an easy life. He had to work hard to earn back the respect of the people who once put their future in his hands. But what he endured has only confirmed his belief and proven his integrity as a man who lives not on bread and politics alone.
Age does not seem to bother him at all. And, if he looks forward to an everlasting life, how can it?
Organizations and Campaigns Supported
- Declare Yourself
- Girls Not Brides
- Habitat For Humanity
- Hands On Nashville
- Heifer International
- The Carter Center
- The Elders
- World Justice Project
- Continuity of Government Commission
- Sa-Dhan (All India Association of Micro Finance Institutions in India)
- The Indian School of Micro-Finance for Women
- Women’s World Banking
- The International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet)
- Self-Employed Women’s Association
- Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing, Organizing (WIEGO)
- Sumter County Board of Education
- Sons of the American Revolution
- Future Farmers of America
- Education Committee
- Plains Baptist Church
- Democratic National Committee
- Airline Deregulation Act
- Emory University
- Geneva Accord
- Nairobi Agreement
- Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2009
- Global Commission on Drug Policy
- Women and Infant Children
- Maranatha Baptist Church
- New Baptist Covenant
- Sumter County Board of Education
- 1955-1962: Served on Sumter County Board of Education
- 1963: Became Senator of Georgia
- 1971-1975: Served as Governor of Georgia
- 1977-1981: Served as President of the United States of America
- 1977: Awarded the Freedom of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne
- 1978: Awarded the “Silver Buffalo Award” by the Boy Scouts of America
- 1978: Initiated the Panama Canal Treaties and the Camp David Accords
- 1979: Received: The “International Mediation Medal” from the American Arbitration Association, the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize,” the “International Human Rights Award” from the Synagogue Council of America, the “Conservationist of the Year Award” and a Gold Medal from the International Institute for Human Rights
- 1981: Received the “Harry S. Truman Public Service Award”
- 1982: Received the “Ansel Adams Conservation Award” from the Wilderness Society
- 1982: Co-founded the Carter Center with his wife, Rosalynn
- 1983: Received the “Human Rights Award” from the International League of Human Rights
- 1985: Received the “World Methodist Peace Award”
- 1987: Received the “Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism”
- 1989: Received the “Edwin C. Whitehead Award” from the National Center for Health Education
- 1990: Received the “Jefferson Award” from the American Institute of Public Service, the “Liberty Medal” from the National Constitution Center and the “Spirit of America Award” from the National Council for the Social Studies
- 1991: Received the “Physicians for Social Responsibility Award” and the “Aristotle Prize” from the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation
- 1992: Received the “W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award” from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
- 1993: Received the “Spark M. Matsunaga Medal of Peace” from the U.S. Institute of Peace, the “Humanitarian Award” from CARE International and the “Conservationist of the Year Medal” from the National Wildlife Federation
- 1994: Received the “Rotary Award for World Understanding,” the “J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding,” the “National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award” and the “UNESCO Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize”
- 1995: Received the “Great Cross of the Order of Vasco Nunéz de Balboa” from Panama
- 1996: Received the “Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Award” from Africare, awarded “Humanitarian of the Year” by GQ and received the “Kiwanis International Humanitarian Award”
- 1997: Received the “Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development”
- 1997: “Inspired Awards for Humanitarian Contributions to the Health of Humankind” launched by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
- 1998: Received “United Nations Human Rights Award” and awarded the “Hoover Medal”
- 1998: Honored by the U.S. Navy by naming the third and last Seawolf-class submarine after him
- 1999: Awarded the “Delta Prize for Global Understanding” by the Delta Air Lines & The University of Georgia, the “International Child Survival Award” from UNICEF Atlanta and the “Presidential Medal of Freedom”
- 2000: Received the “William Penn Mott, Jr. Park Leadership Award” from the National Parks Conservation Association
- 2001: Received the “Zayed International Prize for the Environment,” the “Jonathan M. Daniels Humanitarian Award” from VMI and the “Herbert Hoover Humanitarian Award” from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- 2002: Received the “Christopher Award” and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
- 2006: With other leaders, initiated the “New Baptist Covenant”
- 2007: Received the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences
- 2007: Awarded the Berkeley Medal by the University of California campus
- 2007: Became an Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford, UK and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Eire Republic
- 2009: Received the “International Award for Excellence and Creativity” from the Palestinian Authority
- 2009: Awarded [with Rosalynn] the “American Peace Award”
- 2010: Received the “International Catalonia Award”
- 2010: Secured the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes
- His book “Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis” became a New York Times Bestseller
- 1972: Honorary Doctor of Laws from Morehouse College and Morris Brown College
- 1977: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Notre Dame
- 1979: Honorary Doctor of Laws from Emory University
- 1979: Honorary D.E. from Georgia Institute of Technology
- 1980: Honorary PhD from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
- 1981: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan, and Georgia Southwestern College
- 1983: Honorary PhD from Tel Aviv University, Israel
- 1985: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the New York Law School and Bates College
- 1985: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Central Connecticut State University
- 1987: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the Centre College, Kentucky, and Creighton University
- 1987: Honorary PhD from the University of Haifa, Israel
- 1987: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Central Connecticut State University
- 1995: Honorary Doctorate Degree from G.O.C. University, Puerto Rico
- 1998: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Pennsylvania
- 1998: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Trinity College and Hoseo University
- 2002: Honorary Doctorate Degree from University of Juba, Sudan