President Carter’s topics diverse at Presidents Day lecture
By Ken Gustafson
PLAINS — Many gathered on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 19, in the auditorium at Plains High School to hear former President Jimmy Carter speak on three specific topics.
Most of the crowd gathered was from Georgia, but there were people from other parts of the country as well, including Tina Minch, a school teacher at Holy Redeemer School in Webster Groves, Missouri. “I’ve always loved Jimmy Carter,” Minch said. “I’ve read his books. Our theme is to be a peacemaker at school.”
Barbara Judy is the superintendent of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Site and the coordinator of the annual event. “Typically, President Carter has a single topic when he does these Presidents Day events. For example, last year, it was the Camp David Peace Accords and what and what the behind-the-scene experience was of negotiating those accords,” Judy said. “This year, he’s decided to speak on three topics, so it will be a small piece on each of these three topics.” Judy went on to elaborate about the three topics that Carter spoke about. The first topic was Carter’s intent on establishing the U.S. Department of Education and what he and those in his administration had in mind as to what needed to be solved as far as education was concerned. The second topic was how changes in the media landscape and the way information is delivered to citizens has effected the presidency. The third topic was the current status of the women’s movement.
There was a large age range at the event. Among the crowd were college students from Columbus State and Georgia Southwestern State universities. There was also a group of 4H Club students from Peach County. “What we see are student groups because we specifically reached out to local colleges and universities and through the Georgia Department of Education to local classrooms to invite them to be here,” Judy said. “We see a lot of students in the room. We also see a lot of family groups. We see parents bringing their young children here, and maybe a larger family group that might include grandparents, so that’s a lot of what we see in the audience here today.”
Those in the live audience were not the only people getting to hear Carter speak. The event was streamed live to western states such as South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Alaska. “Within the National Parks Service, we have a program where we broadcast our events across the system,” Judy said. “We advertise this event and we had four classrooms that were interested. One of them is from Nebraska. Another one is from Kansas, a third one is from South Dakota and the fourth one is from Skagway, Alaska. This is something that we do every Presidents Day. We bring in classes from other parts of the United States.” Judy went on to say that this is the fourth year that the former President and Rosalynn Carter came to speak on Presidents Day. However, Rosalynn Carter was not able to be there this year due to an illness.
President Carter opened his remarks by explaining to the crowd why his wife Rosalynn was not able to attend. “This is the first time that my wife Rosalynn has not been here,” he said. The former President went on to explain that she had undergone a serious operation, but was recovering and doing well. The Carter Center issued the following statement on Sunday. “Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter had successful surgery Sunday, Feb. 18, to remove troubling scar tissue from a portion of her small intestine caused by removal of a cyst many years ago. She will remain a few days at Emory University Hospital for rest and recovery.”
Before he began his first topic, the founding of the U.S. Department of Education, Carter mentioned how awe-inspiring it was to be moving into the White House and how even more awe-inspired he was about the responsibilities that lay before him once he got in. He also talked about the experiences he had that helped lead him to become president. “I had been on the Sumter County Board of Education. In fact, I was chairman of the Board of Education in 1962.” he said. “This was the time that racial integration was very prevalent as a prospect in Georgia. Key people who were running for governor of Georgia all pledged that they would never allow African-American children and white children to go to school together. The number one Democrat in the state, at that time, used to hold up one finger. In his campaign speech, he would say, ‘no, not one’, which meant that if African-Americans went into any classrooms with white students, that he would close down the public school system.” The former president went on to say that he was very idealistic. He said that he was raised in a community where all of his playmates, friends and those with whom he worked in the fields, were African Americans. “I was raised in an African-American culture,” he said. “I saw the devastating effects of racial segregation. Then when I got into the Navy, I was a submarine officer. Harry Truman was president in 1948. He made it as a privilege for the Commander and Chief to declare that racial segregation in all of the military forces was over. This was a very courageous thing that he did.”
As chairman of the Sumter County School Board, Carter was very concerned about the state of education in Georgia. He decided to run for the Georgia Senate in 1962, and was elected. “My first request was to be on the education committee in the Georgia Senate,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be made chairman of the University Committee.”
Carter went on to say that when he was elected president of the United States, public education was one of the most important things on his agenda. “I could see when I got to Washington that the education department was under Health and Welfare,” he said. “The name of the department was H.E.W., Health, Education and Welfare. I was determined to elevate education to a higher position in the government. It took me a long time, but by 1979, after I’d been in office for two years, I was able to reorganize the government, and I announced that we would have a separate department of education, but I still had to get it through Congress.”
Carter went on to say that the new U.S. Department of Education was created in early May 1980, and that it was elevated to a full cabinet position. He appointed Judge Shirley Hufstedler to be the first chairman of the department of education. “She became a full member of the cabinet,” he said. “She was approved by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 98-2.” Carter went on to say that Hufstedler was appointed as a federal judge by President Lyndon Johnson, and that he elevated her as chairman of the U.S. Department of Education. Carter said that when he asked her to be the chairman, she agreed to give up her federal judgeship to take that new cabinet position. “We had an official dedication in May of 1980. My daughter Amy, who at that time was 11 years old, participated in the ceremony, and Judge Hufstedler was there. From then on, the department was operating with full authority since the Congress had approved the department in early May 1980,” Carter said. “Before that, I would say that the department pf education was primarily responsible just for lawsuits over busing and integration. They were almost full-time defending the federal government in lawsuits.”
The former president also mentioned Title IX, which brought about equality for female students. This led him to talk about his next topic: the rights of women and the Women’s Movement. “Title IX not only guaranteed women the right to be equal in participating in sports in high school and elementary school. It also protected women’s rights against abuse …sexual abuse,” Carter said. “As you may or may not know, we have a very serious problem in our colleges now about sexual abuse. As a matter of fact, one out of four girls who enter an American college is sexually abused before she graduates from college. This is a terrible blight on our society.”
Carter went on to say that 38 years ago, he wrote a book entitled “A Call to Action.” In the book, Carter is calling the world to action in protecting the basic rights of women and girls. He went on to say that Atlanta is the number one place for slavery in modern times. “About four billion people every year are sold into slavery,” Carter said. “About 80 percent of them are girls that are sold into sexual slavery. The others are men who are sold into human bondage to act as a servant or worker in some place without their permission. Slavery is now more prevalent in the world than it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.” Carter went on to say that slavery is now known as human trafficking. The former president mentioned that Atlanta has the busiest airport on earth, and that the reason that Atlanta has become a center for slavery is that a lot of the passengers that come into Atlanta are from the Southern Hemisphere. “The New York Times had an article early last year that pointed out that a girl who had dark skin could be bought in Atlanta, Georgia, for $1,000,” Carter said. “The owners of whore houses or brothels buy those girls and force them into sexual slavery. They have to become prostitutes in order to keep from being sent back to their home or punished severely. They also analyzed that those brothel owners could have an annual income of about $35,000 from a girl that they had paid $1,000 for.” He said that sexual abuse against women isn’t just on college campuses or in the human trafficking industry. It’s also in the U.S. military. According to a military report that he mentioned, 16,000 sexual abuse cases are found in the U.S. military every year. “There’s been a great deal of effort by the U.S. Congress to do something about this,” Carter said. “So far, they haven’t been able to do all the things that they want to do to correct that problem. This is a very serious problem around the world.”
Carter went on to say that more and more women are running for public office. “In most countries, including ours, about 15 percent of the members of a House and Senate in the Congress of the United States are women,” he said. “I think more and more women have now decided to run for office. I believe we will have an increase in that number.”
Carter mentioned that there are several heads of state around the world that are women. In particular, he mentioned Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, although not by name. He also mentioned that only one country in the world has the majority of women in Parliament: Rwanda, in East Africa. “All women around the world have a very slight chance of running for public office, or being elected if they are chosen,” he said. “As you know, we’ve never had a woman president of the United States yet, but many other countries have had women as their leaders.”
Carter said that women in employment feel a very severe handicap. “On an average, you take all the women who work full-time during the year, and all the men in the United States that work full-time during the year; women get paid 23 percent less than a man,” he said. “A woman gets paid $75 and a man gets paid $100 for the same work. That still prevails in our country.” He said that he wrote an editorial in the New York Times a couple of years ago about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a 30-paragraph document drafted in 1948. He encouraged those in the audience to look it up on Google. “They itemize all the things that the world recommended back in 1948, and all the countries agreed to it, that would treat everybody equally,” Carter said. “In the United States of America, which is obviously a very great country, 10 of those 30 paragraphs aren’t being honored.”
Carter told the audience that the worst human rights violations in the world are against women and girls. “For an average year, there are 135 million girls that are forced into marriage, many of them underage and some as young as eight or 10 or 12 years old,” he said. He said that he worked with the late Nelson Mandela, former Prime Minister of South Africa, to keep girls from being sold into marriage at a very early age. “You can see the importance I’m emphasizing on the rights of women, and reminding people what those rights are,” he said. “One of the main facets that we use in education, not only in high school and elementary school, but also in colleges is Title IX of education laws passed in 1980. That gives law enforcement officials an opportunity to go into a college when boys are raping girls or taking sexual advantage of girls against their wishes, and to provide punishment and expose the boys so they will be expelled from college.”
Carter’s next topic was about the press and how it effects the presidency. He started out by talking about his own experience with how the press was viewing his presidency. “There was an analysis done by a professor in Indiana of my presidency when I went out of office, and they analyzed all the headlines and all the news on television during my 48 months as president,” he said. “They found that I got negative reports on the news media for 47 months.”
Carter said he really liked the press conferences because he didn’t have news reporters interpreting wrongly what he actually said. “I got along quite well with the press,” he said. “Quite often I would have a luncheon at the White House and I would invite reachable leaders, like the editors of the American Standard Corps or the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution. I would spend some special two hours just answering every question. I had a very good relationship with the press, but I had to realize that they were never going to treat me well because I was president. They were going to point out the things that they thought I did wrong and that I could do better.”
Carter said that some presidents got worse publicity than he did. He mentioned one big thing that happened in journalism while he was president. “One of the things that changed when I was president was the establishment of CNN,” he said. “Before CNN was established in 1980, all of the news that people got on television was from three stations: NBC, CBS and ABC. Just those three television stations were the only ones that gave the news. They would have a discussion early in the morning on a morning show, and they would have news once a day. That was about 6:30 in the afternoon.”
Carter said he talked to his very good friend, Ted Turner, about Turner’s desire to start CNN and broadcast news 24 hours a day. CNN was authorized to broadcast news 24 hours a day. “Since then, there has been a whole lot of other news media, as you know,” Carter said. “You’ve got Fox News and during the day you have different news channels, things dedicated to finances or other things. Now, you can go into a room like this, and you can put up a television antenna. You can’t see the waves in the air, but you can get 250 channels with color and moving pictures.” He also mentioned social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. “I don’t use Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “I like to go about myself and be isolated. Everybody that is kin to me, my wife, children and grandchildren, all 21 of them, use social media. We know there’s been a lot of abuse made of social media. I’d have to say that it has opened up an unprecedented avenue between the United States citizens and citizens around the world.”
Carter said that when he goes to places like Uganda or Ghana, almost everybody citizen that he meets has a cell phone. “They can stay constantly in touch with what goes on around the world and they can communicate with other countries as well,” he said. He also commented on the subject of Russia using social media to try to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and that they didn’t succeed. However, he said that all of our intelligence agencies are saying that the Russians are going to try again in 2018, and subsequently. “One of the nice things about using Facebook and Twitter is that the Russians, if they wanted to change votes in America, could focus on a particular community, on a particular kind of people; they could have a special program designed just for school teachers,” he said. “They would concentrate on how they preferred that you vote if you were a school teacher so they could send Facebook programs or Twitter programs to you if you were a school teacher and change your vote. That is what has developed now with social media.”
Before the Q and A session, Carter mentioned the fact that Bass Pro Shop awarded him for being the outstanding conservationist during his lifetime. “They gave me a big award, which will be located in Plains High School,” he said. “They’ve also given me a fishing boat of my choice.” He said the reason he was given this award was because of his record with the Parks Service. “I was able to double the size of the National Parks System when I was president,” he said. “I tripled the size of the wilderness areas. I had established 40 national parks out of 200. It’s an award I’m very proud of.”
Q & A
During the question and answer time, one student asked the former president what was the most difficult thing about being resident. Carter’s response was simply, keeping the peace. “There were so many challenges for me, like there are for every president,” he said. “Unfortunately, in our country now, the American people basically think it’s OK to go to war. If we’re going to try to implant, or start somewhere in the world, a democracy similar to what we have in America, and most Americans agree that it’s OK to go to war, and we forget that we worship the Prince of Peace and not the Prince of War. All of our Christian beliefs and all the beliefs of Muslims, and the beliefs of Jews, Buddhists and Hindus all call for peace. America has the reputation of being the most war-like country on earth.” Carter went on to say that since he normalized relations with China in 1979, they told him they were going to invade Vietnam. “They invaded Vietnam in March of 1979, and they withdrew immediately after about a month,” he said. “Since that time, China has not been to war at all. We’ve been to war at least 30 times. We give our president and members of Congress support because it’s easy for our president, who is the Commander and Chief, to be very popular because he represents all of our military forces overseas, and I felt that. Keeping the peace was very difficult for me.”
Carter said that China has not spent a lot of money on war. He also said that between Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has probably spent six trillion dollars. “We now are 21 trillion dollars in debt,” he said. “The average amount of money that the government spends for everything, in an entire year, is about four trillion dollars. What China has done is it has used its income to benefit their own people. I’ll give you one example. When Rosalynn and I go to China, which we do very often, we ride on the high-speed trains. China has 20,000 miles of railroads for the trains to go from 250 to 350 miles per hour. We don’t have any high-speed trains in America.” He said the Chinese have spent money and railroads, on sea ports, on roads, on new universities while America has spent its money on war. “I think eventually, we are going to have to learn how to live with each other,” he said.
Another question for Carter was what made him decide to go into politics? “I never did go into politics until I was 38 years old,” he replied. “I was on the county school board in Georgia. I was appointed by the grand jury. At that time, all the school board members in Georgia were appointed by grand juries. When I served in the state senate, it was my first trip into politics. I just wanted to preserve and protect the public school system. That was the reason I went into politics to begin with, but then, of course, I was elected to the state senate. I was elected to governor and then I was elected to president. I was extending my knowledge of problems and my ideas on how to solve them.”
After the question and answer session, there was a book signing, where Carter signed several of his books. The Park Superintendent, Barbara Judy, invited the audience to tour the museum inside Plains High School, the high school where Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter Smith went to school together. She also told the visitors that they could visit the train depot, where Carter ran his 1976 election campaign.