FL: When you were growing up on the farm, what were your aspirations?
JC: I don't think anyone can understand me or that era, which is somewhat forgotten in the history of our country, without coming here and absorbing the history and ambience of this place. There was a sense of encapsulation here of me among the members of my family and extended family who were African-American. I can't claim any sort of vision of what I might do because my only vision when I was 6 or 8 years old was to go to the Naval Academy.
FL : Didn't your father go to a military academy?
Yes, Daddy went to Riverside, in Augusta. He finished the 10th grade there. Although the Carter family had been in this country since the 1640s, so far as we know nobody on my Daddy's side had ever finished high school. It was Daddy's ambition for me to go to college.
FL : How did you choose Annapolis?
There were only two free colleges in America and during the Depression years that was very significant. There were West Point and Annapolis. Daddy left it to me whether I should go into the Army or Navy, and I think the deciding factor was my mother's youngest brother was in the Navy. I looked at entrance into the Naval Academy as almost an unachievable life's goal. So I would say that reading and my singular and narrowly focused ambition to go to Annapolis are what motivated me.
FL : When did you first realize that the times were changing in America?
There were two absolute elements of segregation here, one was the church and the other was the school. I don't recall anyone ever challenging that; it was an accepted fact like breathing or being a Christian. There were no white liberals and no black activists, nobody challenged the Supreme Court ruling on this. That was a part of the national culture, but that didn't apply to my life here because I was encompassed by a community of black neighbors. It was not until 1948 that this was strongly and officially challenged, which was about 10 years before the civil rights movement. That's when Harry Truman ordained that racial discrimination in the Army, Navy and Air Force would be ended. That was a shock to people.
FL : How did you feel about that?
It was an evolving experience for me as it was for all Americans, the acknowledgment that racial discrimination was first of all wrong and secondly could be changed legally. It wasn't until the mid-'50s that this became newsworthy.
FL : In your book, "An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood," you write fondly about Rachel Clark. You even have written a moving poem about her. What are some of you fondest memories of the time you shared?
Rachel was a wonderful woman. When Daddy came home he was not a person you could sit and talk to for an hour, well not even 10 minutes, about theology or philosophy, but I could with Rachel. She liked to talk, not in a pontifical way, but sharing what she thought was a way of life. What Rachel did for me was extraordinary, and it had an effect that I really didn't realize until I was an adult.
FL : What about the lessons she taught you about fishing?
Well, Rachel was superb fisherwoman. She knew the creeks and streams around here better than anyone else. She always had good fishing tackle. When we went fishing she would always for some reason use seven poles. Rachel would put the fishing poles in the soft bank and wait for the fish to bite and she would catch more than anyone else. Primarily on those fishing trips, I learned more about life and relationships and probably patience.
FL : Why did you write the book?
I didn't start out writing the book. I started out about eight years ago keeping notes on my computer of the memories that I had when I would walk these fields. I was just going to write a memoir to share with my children and grandchildren. So when my grandchildren would some day know how we lived.
FL : What are you working on now?
A book about Christmases. They have varied so much in my life, starting here to when we celebrated or didn't celebrate Christmas during my naval career to when I was governor and then president. It's about how different our attitude is towards Christmas as our age changes, from when we are parents then grandparents.
Interview With President Carter
Engineer, Former US President,
Nobel Peace Prize Winner