Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
March 25, 2001
I had no idea I wanted President Jimmy Carterís new book until my good friend, Thomas
Samford, gave it to me as a gift. But the minute I laid eyes on it, I knew it was a book that
I enjoy reading, and I was not mistaken.
The book, titled An Hour Before Daylight, is the result of his spending seven years writing down memories of his rural boyhood on a Georgia farm during the Great Depression. Born in 1924, Carter grew up on the now famous farm in Plains, located "exactly 120 miles south of Atlanta," in Sumter County.
Having grown up on a farm in Elmore County, Alabama, also during the Depression years, I found that many of my own boyhood memories are similar to those of the former president. I too can recall my father getting me up at 4:30 in the morning so that we could go out to the barn lot to catch mules "an hour before daylight."
Like Carter I can recall my own embarrassment when my father had me go to the front door of our home and tell black persons to come to the back door if they expected to talk to him. Though I knew in my heart that something was wrong with this attitude, I went along with it as did most white people in those days. Still I remember to this day how uncomfortable it made me feel to participate in this demeaning of fellow human beings.
Carter admits that some of his random recollections are embarrassing, like "the treatment of our immediate neighbors, all of them black, under societal customs that, as Mama said, were never questioned at the time." One of those customs was the idea among whites that blacks should "know their place." Now almost all of us who are white will agree with Carter that "No one would want to return to the old days of unchallenged racial segregation." My own personal regret is that I did not come to this position until I had moved off the farm and become a college student.
The former president laments that, in the cultural changes that have taken place, "something has been lost." Many of us will surely share the regret of which he writes:
"My own life was shaped by a degree of personal intimacy between black and white people that is now almost completely unknown and largely forgotten. Except for my own parents, the people who most deeply affected my early life were Bishop Johnson, Rachel Clark, my Uncle Buddy, Julia Coleman, and Willis Wright. Two of them were white."
Carter pays glowing tribute to the strong influence of his parents, especially of his mother. Unlike some mothers, she did not wait for the father to handle the punishment of disobedient children.
"Mama," he says, "was the one who did most of the refereeing at home, and maintained adequate discipline among us three children. (This was long before Billy was born.) She did a lot to protect us from more severe punishment from Daddy, and when one of us had violated a rule or abused another child, she would report the infraction and hasten to add, ĎEarl, Iíve already punished them!í"
Reading Carterís comments about his parents has made me re-examine my conclusions about my own parents. Like Carterís father, my father ruled the roost in our family. But perhaps I overlooked in my Mama the influence that she had upon my Daddy. It was this observation that made me wonder:
"All the time I was growing up, it seemed on the surface that my father made the final decisions in our house. In front of us children or visitors, Daddyís word was law, and it was not until I was older, perhaps in high school, that I realized how strong-willed my mother was and how much influence she had in our family affairs."
To sum this up, let me commend to you this delightful new book by Jimmy Carter. Whether you thought he was a great president or not, I believe you will truly enjoy reading this fine book of boyhood memories.