The lonely two lane South Georgia road leads you through the peanut and cornfields to the place where a president was born. Plains, Georgia is the birthplace and home of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. As we drove up to the old Plains high school, which is now the home of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, I almost feel like we are traveling back in time to small town America. I told my friend, “It’s hard to believe that a man from a small town in South Georgia could become President of the United States.”
We walked up the steps to explore the rural southern culture and history that helped shape and mold the character and policies of Jimmy Carter. I was surprised at how simple but unique this site was. There’s the usual memorabilia that tells you the Jimmy Carter story, but beyond that there was a feeling of a town that’s truly proud of a man they affectionately refer to as their “favorite son”.
The old high school serves as the museum and visitor center where you will find exhibits that explain how Carter’s life has changed through the years, all while maintaining a residence in Plains. This includes his presidency and the many accomplishments achieved since Carter left office. I couldn’t resist sitting behind the resolute desk and in the oval office chair, staged in front of a backdrop of the oval office. It was one of the desks Carter used while in office and gave me the view of a President. In my mind, I thought, a President of the United States once sat here.
If you travel further down that lonely road in Plains, you can actually see where Jimmy Carter lives today. The property is surrounded by a large fence and you can sense the presence of the Secret Service when you pass the black SUVs and the guard house. Through all the security, you can still get a glimpse of how a former President lives today.
I’ve had the distinct privilege, once in my life, of meeting Jimmy Carter. Over a decade ago, I sat behind him at the inauguration of Gov. Roy Barnes. He appeared to be the real, down to earth, man that you see building homes for Habitat for Humanity. He is man who travels the world promoting peace and assisting other countries who are trying to achieve democracy. Carter is probably one of the most visible and productive former Presidents in our history.
It’s up to historians and politicians to judge his presidency. I was only a child when Carter was president and honestly, probably wouldn’t have agreed with his political views but that does not change that he is a fellow Georgian, proud of his roots. You come away from the visit with a feeling of awe that a president and Noble Peace Prize winner came from a tiny town in Southern Georgia. It seems to prove the old adage childhood teachers used to say, “Any one of you could grow up to be President of the United States”.