James Earl Carter Jr. was born on October 1, 1924 in the provincial southern farming town of Plains Georgia. His father was a farmer and businessman and his mother was a practicing nurse. As a young child he moved with his family to a farm in the neighboring town of Archery. Carter grew up in a thoroughly rural community; his family’s home was without electricity and his neighbors were predominantly African-American.
Although at the time of his birth the highly segregated and prejudicial cultural and legal infrastructure, collectively referred to as Jim Crow, was everywhere in evidence, his mother, Lilian, volunteered her nursing services as a midwife and health care provider to her black neighbors. Her generous and caring nature had a profound influence on the young Carter. His father was an astute businessman and expanded his farm to include 4,000 acres; he subsequently became a peanut broker and a retailer of farm supplies and equipment.
Carter was educated in the public schools and went to the Georgia Institute of Technology before he enrolled in the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland. His professional interest initially gravitated towards science and technology. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and ultimately pursued graduate studies in nuclear physics. It was shortly after his graduation from the Academy that he married Rosalynn Smith of Plains, Georgia. After earning his doctorate in nuclear physics, Carter was chosen as an engineering officer on the Sea Wolf – the second nuclear submarine commissioned by the U.S. Navy.
Carter’s military and professional career was suddenly cut short by the sudden death of his father in 1953. In response to this tragedy, he resigned his post and returned to Plains with his family - that now included three sons – to assume the responsibilities of his father’s various family businesses including the family farm. His father had served in the Georgia state government as a House Representative. Carter, like his father, felt a responsibility to serve his community and consequentially ran for a seat in the Georgia Senate. At first, it appeared that he had lost the election, but an ill-conceived fraud was uncovered in which his opponent had registered fictitious voters some of whom were deceased. Once the fraud was exposed, Carter became a member of the Georgia State Senate and readily won reelection.
In 1966, Carter ran for governor of his state, but was defeated by the overt racist and segregationist Lestor Maddox. Following this defeat, he was inspired by his sister Ruth Carter Stapleton to reevaluate his life and had undergone a spiritual reawakening that he later described as being, “born again.” Four years later he became Georgia’s governor and during his acceptance speech made the exceedingly controversial and unprecedented statement that, "the time for racial discrimination is over."
During his term as governor, he implemented many reforms including:
· Increasing the percentage of African-Americans in Georgia’s civil service by 40%
· Equalizing the public funding for rich and poor school districts in the state and, thereby, greatly enhancing educational opportunities for those most in need
· Increasing educational opportunities for prisoners and the developmentally disabled
· Streamlining government and eliminating wasteful projects
· Canceling construction projects that would be detrimental to the natural environment.
These progressive programs and policies drew the attention of the Democratic Party and he was chosen to be the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Campaign Chairman for the 1974 congressional election. On account of the disastrous presidency of Richard Nixon of the Republican Party and the uninspired administration of President Gerald Ford, the Democrats did well in the 1974 elections.
Since the constitution of the state of Georgia barred Carter from running for a second term as governor, he decided to run for the Presidency of the United States. With highly focused energy and resolve, he campaigned rigorously in the democratic primaries throughout the country and did so well that he won the nomination on the first ballot at the party’s convention in Madison Square Garden, New York City.
Jimmy Carter became the President of the United States. His effectiveness has been called into question by some who felt that he was not strong enough within the arena of foreign policy, especially in regards to how he dealt with the nation’s adversaries. Although he was instrumental in getting the leaders of Egypt and Israel, President Anwar El Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, respectively, to agree on a plan for peace – the so-called Camp David Accords (a peace that is still in existence) - he had the misfortune of being president during the successful Fundamentalist Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 that led to the toppling of the Iranian monarchy under the Shah. This ultimately led to the taking of American hostages. The resulting standoff lasted for 444 days beginning on November 4, 1979 and lasting until January 20, 1981. Coming under considerable domestic pressure, Carter authorized a rescue mission referred to as Operation Eagle Claw that took place on April 24, 1980. This mission was an abysmal failure. It should be noted, however, that all the hostages were ultimately returned safely and unharmed and that no war ensued. However, Carter lost the support of the American people and he failed in his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. The hostages were released within minutes of Reagan’s swearing-in ceremony.
Unlike many presidents who have gone before him, Carter has devoted his post-presidential life to the causes of peace and social justice throughout the world. He has accomplished this through the creation of the Carter Center. He describes this work in the following way, “Our most dedicated investments of time and energy have been among the poorest and most forgotten people of Guyana, East Timor, Haiti, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Niger, Liberia, Cote d’lvoire, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Ghana and other communities throughout Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.”
The Carter Center recruits experts for the purpose of dealing with following kinds of issues that plague many parts of the human world:
· Conflict Resolution
· Human Rights
· Mental Health
· Disease Control and Prevention
· Promoting Democracy.
These experts analyze complex political relationships that underlie trouble spots around the globe and meet and exchange information through intelligence briefings. The Center also employs interns from some 350 different universities worldwide. The staff of the Center works closely with local governments and meets with those that are in need of assistance in their homes and villages. The Carter Center is a non-profit enterprise and depends upon individual and corporate donations in order to function. Carter sold the remainder of the family businesses in order to help finance this monumental endeavor. The site of the Center along with the Carter Presidential Library is located in Atlanta, Georgia. As stated on the Carter Center website (cartercenter.org), the Center’s mission is based on the following five principles –
“The Center emphasizes action and results. Based on careful research and analysis, it is prepared to take timely action on important and pressing issues.
· The Center does not duplicate the effective efforts of others.
· The Center addresses difficult problems and recognizes the possibility of failure as an acceptable risk.
· The Center is nonpartisan and acts as a neutral in dispute resolution activities.
· The Center believes that people can improve their lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources.”
It is not so much a think tank as it is an action agency. Thanks to Carter’s careful and judicious planning and conservative economic development, the Carter Center now has an endowment of over 250 million dollars, and programs do not proceed until the funding is assured. Some of the programs that have been put into play through the Center include the fight against diseases endemic to the tropics, especially malaria, river blindness and trachoma and improving the quality of food grains in Africa.
In addition, considerable efforts have been made towards conflict resolution. For this purpose, the Center employs Dr. Doyle Powell a fellow in conflict resolution. As a result of an analysis done regarding the nature of conflicts, it has been found that nearly all the thirty-four conflicts studied, involving battle deaths of at least 1000 individuals, are civil wars. In order to help settle these conflicts nonviolently, the Center has often called upon some of its more influential members including Desmond Tutu, Oscar Aria, the former President of Costa Rica, and Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor. In the course of its work, the Carter Center has monitored almost 70 elections throughout the world in the course of 18 years.
On account of these extraordinary efforts, President Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October of 2002. The decision was based upon the following reasons as stated by the Norwegian Nobel Committee -
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 to Jimmy Carter, for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.
During his presidency (1977-1981), Carter's mediation was a vital contribution to the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, in itself a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize. At a time when the cold war between East and West was still predominant, he placed renewed emphasis on the place of human rights in international politics.
Through his Carter Center, that celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2022, Carter has since his presidency undertaken very extensive and persevering conflict resolution on several continents. He has shown outstanding commitment to human rights, and has served as an observer at countless elections all over the world. He has worked hard on many fronts to fight tropical diseases and to bring about growth and progress in developing countries. Carter has thus been active in several of the problem areas that have figured prominently in the over one hundred years of Peace Prize history.
In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that, "conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development.”
President Jimmy Carter’s devotion to the causes of peace and social justice has certainly earned him such an honor. His tenacity is so formidable that his efforts continue to this day.