Since the news broke that Jimmy Carter has entered hospice care, people across the state have been sharing stories about Georgia’s homegrown hero and favorite son. We’ve been mining author and archivist Kaye Minchew’s “Jimmy Carter: Citizen of the South” to bring you 10 lesser-known facts that highlight Carter’s extraordinary life and Southern roots. Read on to learn something new about our longest-living former president.
1. Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. President born in a hospital
Though he was born in 1924 in the tiny town of Plains in rural southwest Georgia, miles from the nearest big city, James Earl Carter drew his first breath at Wise Sanitarium–making him the first U.S. president to be born in a hospital. Carter’s mother, Lillian, worked there as a nurse. When the time came to deliver her firstborn, the hospital had an open room, and Dr. Sam Wise urged her to have her baby there instead of the Carter home. (The doctor thought that if she delivered at the hospital, she would be able to return to work more quickly.) Three years later, Miss Lillian would help deliver her future daughter-in-law, Rosalynn.
2. The county library provided a young Jimmy Carter with his first job in public service
In an interview, Carter said: “My first job in the county was on the Sumter County Library Board. And we set up a traveling library, the bookmobile….it would come to Plains and stop in the grove…I think twice a week. And anybody in town could come and check out books from the bookmobile.” Bookmobiles have long played an important role in rural counties, where people may live far from their local library branch.
3. Jimmy Carter skipped school and missed out on being valedictorian
In 1941, during his 11th year at Plains High School–Georgia did not add 12th grade until the adoption of a new state constitution in 1945–Jimmy was set to be valedictorian. But he lost the position after he and other senior boys left school on April Fool’s Day and went to Americus. Carter received zeroes for that day and became the salutatorian instead. He later became the only class member to earn a college degree.
Courtesy of Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
4. Before he was a peanut farmer, state senator, governor, and president, Carter served as a submariner in the U.S. Navy
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Carter first served on a ship. The Carter family moved from Norfolk to Hawaii, Connecticut, New York, and California with the service. He then decided to go into submarines and, inspired by his respect for Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, applied to be in the nuclear program. Jimmy Carter served aboard the submarine USS K-1.
5. Carter is also believed to be the first president to live in public housing
Carter left the Navy to return to Plains after the death of his father Earl in 1953. Due to a postwar housing shortage, Jimmy, Rosalynn, and their sons moved into a new public housing project less than three blocks from Plains High School, becoming the first tenants of unit 9. This experience would later help inspire their interest in involvement with Habitat for Humanity.
6. The Carters started a new tradition when they walked in the inaugural parade…
During the 1977 inaugural parade, the Carters walked from the Capitol to the White House, the first time a president ever walked the pavement of Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration–defying the advice of the secret service and starting a new tradition continued by every president since.
7. …and supporters from Georgia were there to see it.
A train dubbed the “Peanut Special” transported supporters from Georgia to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. The locomotive recalled another train, the “Presidential Express,” which had transported supporters in 1933 from Warm Springs to Washington to attend the first inaugural of Georgia’s adopted son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
8. Carter has been a baseball fan all his life
In his youth, duties on the farm during spring sometimes interfered with Carter getting to play baseball. He supported the Atlanta Braves since the team moved to Georgia in 1966. As governor, Carter got to shake Hank Aaron’s hand the day he broke the national league record for most home runs, and Carter threw the ceremonial first pitch in game six of the World Series in 1995–the same night the Braves won the title. But some of the most famous ballgames played in the country occurred in Plains, Georgia, between 1977 and 198, when then-President Carter and the Secret Service took on Billy Carter and members of the press in friendly games of softball.
9. Jimmy Carter has lived in the same Georgia home for more than 60 years.
In 1981, when the Carters left the White House, they returned to the only home they have ever owned, at 209 Woodlawn Avenue, purchased in 1961. The modest, ranch-style house served as home base for the Carter family throughout his time in the Georgia Senate and the offices of governor and president. He is one of only a few presidents in recent history to move back into the home he lived in before he became president.
10. Carter is a prolific author
In addition to his post-presidency work with the Carter Center, Habitat for Humanity, and numerous other charitable causes, Carter has penned more than 30 books about his life, career, and experiences, with subjects ranging from international affairs to a recollection of childhood Christmases in Plains. He even won three Grammy Awards in the Spoken Word Album category for audio recordings of his books “Faith: A Journey for All” (2019), “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety” (2018), and “Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis” (2006).
The stories in this entry are drawn from Kaye Minchew’s “Jimmy Carter: Citizen of the South,” a publication of UGA Press in association with Georgia Humanities. Check out the book to learn more interesting facts about our 39th president »