Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: JIMMY CARTER LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

We love Presidential Libraries/Birthplaces/Museums. Looking at history in the context of one individual's contributions is enlightening. This was particularly true of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, which happens to be next door to but run separately from the Carter Center, a non-profit human rights agency founded by Jimmy and Rosalyn in 1982.
The approach to the Library and Museum includes a roundabout lined with state flags.
 The library is built on the spot where Union General William T. Sherman orchestrated the Battle of Atlanta in 1864
Carter took office in January 1977, the middle of my senior year of high school. His was the first presidency that meant something to me on a political level. I remember that my mother, usually a Republican, voted for him because of his stance on human rights. I still find him to be one of our most interesting Presidents, partly because of his farm boy roots, something I can identify with.
Carter was born in Plains, Georgia, in 1924. Did you know he was the very first President to be born in a hospital? His mother was a nurse, so perhaps that was part of the reason why. Artifacts from his childhood are on display:
 I especially loved this collage. No wonder he was such a strong civil rights advocate:

Carter served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Submarine Fleets. He was also accepted into the brand new nuclear submarine program run by Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Legendary for his toughness, Rickover had a profound effect on Carter's life.

Jimmy and Rosalyn were married in 1946. I love this photo with the inscription, "Darling, I love you with all my heart--for all my life. Jimmy."
Carter started his political career in the 1960s as an elected member of the Georgia Senate. He ran for Governor of Georgia in 1966 and lost, then ran again in 1970 and won.
At his inauguration, Carter made this bold statement: "I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over. Our people have already made this major and difficult decision, but we cannot underestimate the challenge of hundreds of minor decisions yet to be made. Our inherent human charity and our religious beliefs will be taxed to the limit. No poor, rural, weak, or black person should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity of an education, a job or simple justice."  

He was the first statewide office holder in the Deep South to make a statement this bold, which is hard to believe. What took them so long?

Carter entered the Presidential race in 1976 with only 2% name recognition, but he beat incumbent Gerald Ford in the popular vote 50.1% to 48%, and in the electoral vote 297 to 240. He was the first President elected from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor won in 1848.
 

A very salient quote from Carter's campaign:

I wonder if this was hanging on the wall before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the Feds?

I remember being impressed when the Carter Family got out of their fancy bullet-proof limo and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House during the Inauguration Day parade. 



I also have clear memories of the Carter's youngest daughter Amy, whom the press lampooned relentlessly because of her awkwardness:

All of that is depicted in the Carter Museum.

As seems to be fairly typical of Presidential museums, there is a replica of the Oval Office during Carter's tenure.


I always enjoy the contemporary culture pieces typical of Presidential musuems. Carter's Presidency coincided with my late high school and early college years, the period when my interest in pop culture peaked:

According to info at the museum, Coca-Cola was one of the first American companies to begin selling in China in 1979, paving the way for other companies to follow, such as Disney. These Coke bottles were produced for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It's hard to fully appreciate a photo of this somewhat surreal painting (1979) by Octavio Ocampo, a prolific Mexican artist, but you can see that it is actually made up of an intricate weaving together of images that together create the portrait.
One of my favorite sections in any Presidential Museum is the gift section There were some doozies in the Carter Museum, including this ostrich egg styled to resemble a Fabrege egg. Inside is a miniature of Carter's cabinet, and the musical base plays "Hail to the Chief."

I loved this triptych, a gift from Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (primarily an Egyptian church):

Having been to St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, this story about the Crown of St. Stephen was extra meaningful to me:


And this gift of a marble statue also had more meaning to me after having visited Josip Broz Tito's tomb in Belgrade:
This handwoven wool tapestry of George Washington was given to Carter by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran to commemorate the nation's 1976 Bicentennial. The Shah was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Under the new regime, some Iranian students besieged the American Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. This crisis had a major negative impact on Carter's bid for re-election.

Carter's greatest legacy, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1978, is the focus of many displays in the museum, as it should be.




This painting by LeRoy Neiman hung in the President's White House study:
Carter was awarded Egypt's highest honor, the Great Order of the Nile, by President Sadat when Carter visited Egypt in 1979:

I'll never forget the day the 52 American hostages were released in Tehran after being held for 444 days--January 20, 1981. Not only was it the due date of our first baby, but it also just happened to be the day Reagan was sworn in as President after having soundly defeated Carter's bid for re-election. The release came about a month too late to make any difference for Carter, under whose aegis a failed rescue attempt had been made nine months earlier. I'm sure it was a bitter blow.
I love group photos of U.S. Presidents. No matter what you think of their politics, they are all great men in their own way:
Carter's post-Presidency years are among the most admirable of all former Presidents. He has continued to work for civil rights, has been involved in many international peace-keeping and diplomatic missions, and is a dedicated humanitarian. Many organizations rank his post-Presidency as one of the most successful in U.S. history.

The Carter Center, mentioned at the beginning of this post, has controlled or eradicated several diseases in third-world countries, has helped improve nutrition in Africa through increased crop production, has worked to reduce the stigma of mental illness, has monitored 81 elections in 33 countries, and has worked to resolve conflicts around the world. Carter will turn 90 this fall, and he is still going strong.

In 1999, he and Rosalyn were awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. This award is the nation's highest civilian honor.

In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway:


In 2006, Carter even won a Grammy Award for "Best Spoken Word Album" for his recording of Our Endangered Values:America's Moral Crisis."
Overall, I liked the Carter Library and Museum quite a bit. At times it lacked a personal touch and glossed over some of the hard parts of Carter's life, but as a result it does a very good job of creating a greater sense of respect for Carter the Politician or Carter the World Figure.

Unless I am missing something, there doesn't seem to be a standout biography of Jimmy Carter, although there are several volumes of autobiography/memoirs by Carter himself. Those books appear to cover segments of his life--his boyhood in Plains, his Presidency, his later years--and nothing covers it all. I would guess that when he dies there will suddenly be such a book, but I'd be interested in one now. Has anyone read a Carter bio that you can recommend?

3 comments:

  1. My least favorite of the Presidential libraries so far, yet still very much worth a visit. I do admire Carter's morality and goodness.

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  2. It is amazing to me how much more work Carter did after his presidency.

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  3. If you haven't read "The Presidents Club" I highly recommend it. It's about the relationship between living presidents, including Carter. There were lots of surprises and interesting stories. I really enjoyed it.

    I trust you took home that ostrich egg for your souvenir collection...

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