Generations Celebrate Carter

Attendees reassess presidency of the man from Plains
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 30, 2023 5:35 PM CDT
Celebration Marks Carter's 99th
Workers install a wooden cake display on the North Lawn of the White House on Saturday in honor of former President Jimmy Carter's 99th birthday.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

James Earl Carter Jr., known as "Jimmy" from the start—in 1924—was celebrated Saturday at his presidential library and museum ahead of his 99th birthday on Sunday. "I think of him as a man who did so much to help low-income people and minorities—and I was both growing up," said Marcia Rose, who brought her grandchildren from suburban Marietta to the Carter Presidential Center near downtown Atlanta. A native of Buffalo, New York, Rose said she was not old enough to vote for the Democrat when he was was elected president in 1976 or when he lost his bid for reelection four years later, the AP reports. "But I'm old enough to remember his impact," she said. "I wanted to be here to honor him and for us to be part of that history."

Rose joined thousands of well-wishers who wrote birthday cards that will be delivered to Carter's home in Plains. He has been in hospice care since February, spending time with his wife, Rosalynn, who is 96, and other family members. Carter is the longest-lived US president ever. Attendees on Saturday saw video tributes from celebrities and competed in rounds of trivia that highlighted underappreciated details about Carter's life and how much the world has changed since it began. A discounted 99-cent ticket allowed them access to the museum, which includes a replica of the Oval Office as it appeared during Carter's 1977-81 White House term. And those who stood in line early enough got birthday cake decorated in green, the color Carter chose for his presidential campaign materials in 1975 to reflect his environmental priorities.

In Plains, Doris Day's "Sentimental Journey" played over public speakers. For many people, the occasion was another step in the evolution of how Carter is remembered. "Growing up in Texas, our history classes talked about him mostly as a failure, a weak figure, especially militarily and on foreign affairs," said Zach K, an Atlanta banker born after Carter's presidency. Marlene Salgado is now a public high school history teacher. But as a student herself, "all I remember learning about him was the 'malaise speech' on the energy crisis and the hostages in Iran." Now, the pair is reading together a comprehensive Carter biography, His Very Best by Jonathan Alter, which is among several recent books and documentaries that reassess Carter as more than a failed president who rehabilitated himself as a global humanitarian through his work at the Carter Center.

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Plains City Councilperson Eugene Edge Sr. got to know Carter when he returned to his hometown to take over his father's peanut business after serving in the Navy, per CNN. "I don't know a better person," Edge said. "He didn't look at you differently because you were a different color, and I liked that." Festivities at the Carter Library & Museum, including 99-cent admission, were scheduled to continue Sunday if Congress averts a government shutdown. Either way, events at the Carter Center are to include a naturalization ceremony recognizing 99 new US citizens. The Carter family planned to celebrate privately in Plains. (More Jimmy Carter stories.)

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