In Their Own Words

S2 E4 | CLIP

Childhood in the South

Born in 1924 in the rural town of Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter comes of age during an era inflicted by de jure racial segregation. Despite having a father known for his reputation as a white supremacist, Jimmy seeks moral guidance from many of the Black sharecroppers who work on his father’s peanut farm.

AIRED: September 28, 2021 | 0:02:57

- When Jimmy Carter was a boy,

Plains was much smaller and the streets were dirt.

One or two, maybe three stores.

Horses tied up downtown.

It was a very slow pace.

The houses were sparse.

It was just very rural.

Farm people, basically.

(tense music)

- He was born in 1924,

but it might as well have been the 19th century.

- They moved into this house

when he was about three or four years old.

- No running water, no electricity,

no mechanized farm equipment.

His father had a system

that was just one step up from slavery with sharecroppers.

- [Jill] He interacted with African American sharecroppers.

They grew peanuts and cotton and corn

and all kind of things.

(somber music)

- I was too young to know my grandfather,

but he had a reputation as a conservative,

narrow-minded racist.

- James Carter, Senior was a man of his time.

He firmly believed in the social hierarchy

that put whites at the top of society.

- His father was a white supremacist,

but his mother was a nurse who took care

of Black patients for free.

Ended up getting paid with a chicken

or some eggs or vegetables.

- And his mother, Miss. Lillian,

taught her son that the way to go

was not to be the typical Southerner,

still fighting the Civil War.

- His values came in large measure from his mother

and also the Black men and women who raised him.

He was working on the farm all of his life

with poor Black people

whose education was all grounded in the Bible.

- Mr. Lillian taught President Carter

that everybody was equal,

didn't matter what color their skin was.

- And that's this whole,

the seed that was sown into him when he was a child.

- And he really had a third parent,

an illiterate Black farmhand named Rachel Clark.

(gentle music)

- Everybody in the neighborhood loved her.

You couldn't help but fall in love with her.

And she would take President Carter fishing.

- [Jimmy] When work was done,

sometimes she'll smile at me and mention fish.

These journeys gave us ample time to talk.

- He'll tell you right now that she taught him a lot.

- [Jimmy] I would listen to her words about God's holy way,

how when we deal with nature, we are stewards of the Earth

and say the brave and strongest need not fight.

Those might have been the best days I have known.

- He has always said she made one of the greatest impacts

in his life ever, this Black woman.