STATESBORO — Former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter brought a real-life, personal history lesson to a cheering audience of Georgia Southern University students recently.
The Carters spoke at Hanner Fieldhouse as part of the university’s leadership lecture series, geared toward providing students a chance to hear leaders from around the world.
The former president began by sharing his early life, telling the audience that he was the first president who was born in a hospital, and how he grew up in the only white family in a predominantly black community outside Plains — the town made famous by Carter’s election.
At age 88, he is still a peanut farmer. He told about experiencing hardships when he returned from the Navy to live with Rosalynn in government housing.
“We were broke, and we didn’t know what we were going to do,” he said.
What he did was become a leader in the farming community and eventually find his way into politics as a congressman, a governor and eventually, president.
Taking turns speaking, Rosalynn shared how she “developed a good partnership in our marriage” by helping run the farming operation while her husband was “only home on weekends” during his military experience. She also “developed some independence” by advising her husband, pulling from knowledge learned while obtaining an accounting degree.
She also spoke about campaigning with her son Jeff, father of grandson Jamie Carter, who is a junior at Georgia Southern. Rosalynn Carter showed the presidential family’s human side as she shared fear during campaigning for her husband, talking about how she and Jeff would arrive at a destination during their door-to-door ventures and “get up the nerve to get out and ask somebody to vote for Jimmy.”
She and the former president “networked” their way into the White House, which was “a pretty nice place to live,” she said, generating a ripple of laughter from the crowd. Once her husband took office, “We got busy and pretty soon it became home.” It was a bit disconcerting to sit down for dinner and see place settings from former presidents’ areas, especially when Abraham Lincoln’s china was on display.
“We dined off Woodrow Wilson’s china,” she said.
The former first lady also spoke of how she would always ask Jimmy about issues, and one day he told her to just attend the Cabinet meetings. She did, she said, much to others’ dismay.
“The first lady was not supposed to be there, but I went, and I did not stop,” she said, to loud applause.
Both she and President Carter spoke about the Carter Center, which opened after he left office, and the humanitarian efforts they have made on behalf of mental health, human rights and peace.
“I tried to bring peace to other people … peace to Israel … that has been the most burning issue in my life for the past 30 years,” the former president said, “and we still have a long way to go.”
Carter expressed concern about sharp partisanship and blamed the influx of money into campaigning, which he said led to negative campaigns, as reasons behind the split between parties.
There wasn’t such a sharp partisan divide while he was in office, but “an element of harmony,” he said. Carter said he is disappointed in what he sees going on in Washington and said there is a need to “reach out the other side and understand, not blame.”
On the topic of gun control, Carter said he is in favor of banning assault weapons, limiting magazines to 10 rounds and screening those purchasing firearms.
“I have nine guns — (including) two pistols and two rifles,” he said. “I am an avid hunter."
He said he believes banning assault rifles and more importantly, universal identification screening and registration mandates, will lessen violence.
Rosalynn Carter spoke up, reminding her husband, “We need to enforce the laws already on the books.”