In his memoir, An Hour Before Daylight, former president of the United States Jimmy Carter revisits his childhood and gives clues as to how he came to live the adult life that he lived. As a boy, Carter had many influences, including hard work, his mother, and an African-American woman named Rachel Clark. Jimmy Carter’s closeness with African-Americans as a child led him to shape his political policy around human rights, and his training in hard work during his childhood led to leadership roles not only in politics, but also in charity work, during his adult life.
Jimmy Carter was born James Earl Carter, Jr. on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia, to a farmer and businessman, James Earl Carter, and a registered nurse, Lillian Gordy. Carter grew up in the nearby town of Archery; his childhood filled with farming, the Baptist faith, and talk of politics. Carter’s mother had a great influence on him. During the Great Depression, Carter’s mother would never turn away a tramp traveling past their house who wanted food or drink (Carter, 2001).
This led to Carter’s leadership in charities later in life. For example, Carter is involved with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds and/or renovates houses for those in need of decent, affordable housing. Carter’s involvement with this organization led to the Carter Work Project, where Carter and his wife donate a week of their time to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing and build homes (“Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity” 2009). Like his mother cared for those in need of food and drink during the Great Depression, Carter now cares for those in need of affordable housing.
Although the Civil War had been over for some time, it had a great impact of young Carter. The Caucasian population wanted to preserve their way of life while their African-American neighbors had grandparents who were liberated by the war. Carter’s mother was the only person in her family to ever defend Abraham Lincoln. He never heard about the evils of slavery, only that the federal government intruded into the private lives of citizens and the violated the states’ rights. As is evident by these statements, Carter was being groomed to hate the African-American population as much as other Caucasians did at that time.
However, Carter did not take to hatred that easily. He grew up around many African-American families, including the families that worked on his parents’ farm. When the Carters moved to Archery, young Carter befriended an African-American boy named Alonzo Davis, whom Carter referred to as A.D. The young boys were oblivious to the fact that they were colored differently and a solid friendship was built. This was the beginning of Carter’s tolerance for people of different races, which served him well later in life.
As stated earlier, the Carters employed African-American families to work on their farm, which helped to break down the barrier between the races for young Carter. For example, Carter and his younger sisters were raised by an African-American woman named Rachel Clark. Clark had a tremendous influence on Carter. Carter stated that she was such a force that it would have seemed inappropriate to employ her as a servant. Clark talked about religious and moral values to Carter, teaching him how to behave without preaching.
Perhaps because of Clark’s influence on Carter, the African-Americans that worked for the Carters would sometimes talk to Carter about their concerns, hoping that he would pass the messages on to his parents. Carter did pass these messages on, but only at times when he thought it might help the African-American workers’ situations (Carter, 2001). This was perhaps Carter’s first opportunity to speak on behalf of African-Americans. Young Carter tried to help better the lives of the people who worked for his family.
Because of Carter’s closeness with African-Americans during his childhood, he advocated for human rights during his career in politics, and formed alliances with Civil Rights activists. Civil Rights was an extremely important issue and affected Carter’s life. African-Americans, especially his childhood friend Alonzo Davis and Rachel Clark, shaped the way Carter looked at the world. During his childhood, despite other influences, Carter saw everyone as equal. He learned about the most important elements of life, such as the natural order of the world and faith, from Rachel Clark, and from Alonzo Davis, he learned that African-Americans were the same as himself. Carter carried these lessons with him throughout his life, and these memories became important to his policy during this political career.
From the time he was born, Carter was no stranger to hard work. A farm boy, Carter spent most of his time outdoors, either working or playing. When working, Carter handled the plows, mules, and hoes. Unless the weather or his parents did not permit it, he always went barefoot. Carter recalled the boiling topsoil as he fertilized growing crops, pruning watermelons, or poisoning boll weevils. He also helped to catch and harness horses and mules, milk the cows, and feed the hogs and chickens (Carter, 2001). This hard work prepared him for leadership in politics later in life, which eventually led to Carter becoming the thirty-ninth president of the United States. Carter was not afraid of hard work, whether it was manual labor or intellectual work.
The history of the state of Georgia seemed to progress as Carter got older in the memoir. The reader learned about the state of Georgia through the eyes of first a small boy, then a teenager, and finally an adult. Throughout this telling, it is interesting to see that Carter’s love for his home state never wavered.
The first glimpse of Georgia the reader gets is in the first chapter of An Hour Before Daylight. The state began in 1733 by rejecting slavery. Carter goes on to explain that although Georgia rejected slavery, twenty years later, large landowners owned slaves. The history of Georgia then goes into the Depression era. Sales for the state’s basic cash crop at the time, cotton, were slow. This created a shift to peanuts as a cash crop. There were frequent lynchings during the hard times, partially because Caucasian men wanted the jobs that were given to the African-Americans in the past.
As the memoir progressed, Carter’s descriptions of Georgia changed from historical to personal. As an adult, he remembered fondly the place where he grew up. Toward the end of the memoir, instead of historical references to the state, Carter described his role on the farm and his own ventures into the peanut business. Carter also described community togetherness during times of crisis. For example, funerals were community affairs. The entire town showed condolences. The women would prepare food, welcome the grieving guests, and clean. Everyone attended funeral services, which were extravagant. Everyone tried to ease the burden of the grieving family (Carter, 2001). After his presidency, Carter and his wife returned to Plains, Georgia, preferring to take care of the farm that Carter loved so much.
Jimmy Carter’s childhood influenced his adult life. His experiences with African-Americans from a young age during times of hardship and segregation , such as his friendships with Alonzo Davis and Rachel Clark, caused Carter to form his political policy around human rights. Also, the caring influence of his mother and the hard work he learned on his family’s farm served him well in charity work as an adult. All of these influences helped to shape Carter into the hardworking, intelligent, and caring man he is today.
– Carter, Jimmy. (2001). An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood. New York: Simon & Schuster. 17-18, 24, 73, 75-76, 78-79, 149, 192.
– Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity. (2009). Habitat for Humanity. Retrieved June 8, 2009, from http://www.habitat.org/how/carter.aspx