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If you like Jimmy Carter's story, you might also like:
Norman Borlaug,
George H.W. Bush,
Johnnetta Cole,
Millard Fuller,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
Frank M. Johnson,
Shimon Peres,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
Robert S. Strauss
and Andrew Young

Jimmy Carter's recommended reading: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Jimmy Carter also appears in the video:
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Jimmy Carter in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
What is a Leader
Global Conflicts

Related Links:
Jimmy Carter Library
The White House

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Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
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Jimmy Carter Interview (page: 2 / 5)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Jimmy Carter

Were there particular teachers, or books you read as a young man, that stimulated or inspired you?

Jimmy Carter Interview Photo
Jimmy Carter: We had a school superintendent in Plains named Miss Julia Coleman, who was honored in Georgia as the outstanding educator of the state. She was even invited to go to the White House to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt. We had a tiny school, and she would kind of adopt a few students as her special ones. I was one of those she happened to adopt. She would give me long lists of classical books of all kinds to read as a possible assignment. And she would always try to give more than anybody could possibly read. I would read almost all of them, sometimes all of them. Miss Julia introduced me to a gamut of books, most of them classical in nature. And on the side, I would read other books about cowboys and Indians and so forth. Obviously, in the community where I lived, the Bible was the center of people's reading. We never missed Sunday School. My daddy was a Sunday School teacher. I still teach Sunday School, and have since I was a college student. So I would say obviously the Bible.

When people ask me what's a favorite book that I've ever read, I used to say Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, who went in to a little remote area in Alabama during the Depression years, got a grant from I think the WPA (Works Projects Administration) or something, and wrote about the lives of people who lived in desperate poverty, and how they dealt with the exigencies of life, the challenges, the disappointments of life, and still had a coherent family environment. And the photographs in the book by Walker Evans are just works of art. That book is one of my favorites as well.

Is that because it gave you a sense of empathy with people who are struggling?

Jimmy Carter: It showed me that the experiences of our neighbors were not unique, that there were people all over the country who suffered. It happened then, during the Depression years, that all the families he analyzed in great depth were white families. We still have people like that living in our country. What impressed me with that book was a tremendous chasm between people who have everything, who have a house and a job and education and adequate diets, and a sense of success or security, who want to do good things, and the vast array of people still in our country who don't have any of these things, and whom we seldom, if ever, know.

I experienced the ravages of racial discrimination as a child, and even as an adult, and I've seen discrimination against women, and wars all over the world because of ethnic discrimination. The greatest discrimination in the world now, here in Atlanta or in New York is a discrimination against poor people. We don't even know them. We care in general about homelessness, or drug addiction, or school dropouts, but we don't know a homeless person, and we don't know a drug addict, and we don't know a school dropout or a teenage pregnant woman. This is not a deliberate discrimination, it's a discrimination by default. We tend to build a plastic bubble around ourselves so that we only have to associate with people just like us. And so, this suffering that still goes on in our country and around the world is very severe.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

That book, among other things, just woke me up to the fact that we still have people like this next door, and we are not doing much about it.

The road to success is usually a winding one. What kinds of setbacks have you had through your life? And what did you learn from them?

Jimmy Carter: Well, sometimes dramatic changes in life take place because of a deliberate decision. Sometimes they are inadvertent or unanticipated, and certainly not desired. When I left the Navy, which had been my lifelong commitment, and came home to the little tiny town of Plains, my wife almost left me, because she could see that we were restricting our lives and not expanding them. But out of that tiny village of Plains, I learned to broaden my perspectives.

I ran for the governorship in 1966 and lost. It was the first real defeat in my life. At everything else I had been successful. Whenever I wanted something in the Navy, I got it because I was an outstanding officer. I worked hard. So that was a very serious blow to me. I was very distressed. And my sister, whose name is Ruth Stapleton, was a famous evangelist. She wrote four or five books, and she would give lectures to 50,000 people at a time. She and I had a long walk in the woods on my farm, and she said, "Jimmy, quite often, when you have a blow to your pride and a horrible defeat, you can either give up, or you can look on it as a way that God opens to you to do different and even better things." And I said, "Ruth, I've been defeated for governor in Georgia. My political career is over. I don't have any future." But it proved to be wrong. And then of course, I was defeated in 1980 again for re-election after reaching the highest levels of political achievement in the world. And I thought we were in desperate straits then. I found out I was in debt. I had put all my financial resources in a private trust. And I didn't let them communicate with me. After I was defeated for re-election, I found out that instead of being a fairly wealthy person, I was a million dollars in debt. And I thought I was going to have to sell all my farms and everything in order to pay off my debts. But I've managed to pay them off now, and we have as exciting and challenging and vigorous and adventurous and gratifying a life here at the Carter Center as I ever had before in my life.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

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This page last revised on Mar 26, 2011 10:41 EDT
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