Jimmy Carter was born in 1924, in the heart of the Jim Crow era, and in the center of the Jim Crow south.
This was one year before the Scopes Monkey Trial, five years before the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The year saw the KKK march down Pennsylvania Avenue in full regalia and with police protection.
Protection also came from the faith Carter’s family practiced. Alcohol was illegal, abortion was strictly illegal, but lynching was very legal. The Southern Baptist Convention into which Carter was born had supported slavery, it supported segregation, and they called it all God’s law.
It has been hard for me to understand, just how and where this good man was raised, the beliefs he overcame to become what he was. I didn’t even start to understand it until I moved here, after his presidency, and saw how the struggle continues today, on both sides.
Carter didn’t enter politics until he was 42, running for State Senate. While Governor in 1973 he appeared on the game show “What’s My Life,” saying he was running for President. While the panelists weren’t blindfolded, no one recognized him. His entire political life lasted just 14 years.
The progress of that life can be measured by these statistics. In 1924 Alabama had 2.5 million people, Georgia 2.9 million. Today Alabama has 5 million people and Georgia nearly 11 million. Georgia’s economy is 2.7 times the size of Alabama’s.
Carter ran to the right of his party, based on his personal story. But the Kennedys, who still dominated Democratic politics, saw him as an arriviste, even after he was elected. Edward Kennedy blew up the party over what now seem trivial differences, and while it’s likely Reagan still would have won that year Democrats have been the nation’s minority party ever since.
Jimmy Carter was a man completely outside his time, and outside his place, from the moment of his birth until his death. He wasn’t a great orator. He wasn’t a wartime leader. Yet no one in 20th century America has proven more important, based on the strength of his example, and his steadfast belief that we can be better than we are.
Carter’s better angels have yet to triumph. As I write this the Klan is marching again, with total control over the Republican Party, which in turn has total control over the South. If anything, it is more dangerous, because it’s not divided as it was then, and it is making significant progress in taking us back to 1924.
All Americans of goodwill need to make a vow with Carter’s passing. It is upon us to advance the cause for which he gave nearly a century of life. There remain huge tasks before us, and while we’re all diminished in our grief, we need to pick up his flag and take it forward.
What we do will be his monument.
This sums up why Jimmy is an exceptional human being better than just about anything else I've read.
I'd only add that he is one of very few people who have caused a truly terrible disease to be eradicated (the Guinea Worm), which by itself would have put him in the history books.
he was, definitely, a very good man. one who tried to practice the sermon on the mount!