Living legacies are made one day at a time

Published 12:04 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023

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Tracy K. Hall

It is an internationally know fact that Jimmy Carter is one of the most influential people in the world and his legacy has been going strong for about a century. The impact he has had on our world has been significant and he has earned every accolade laid at his feet. While international leaders speak admirably of him, while our country embraces him, how the State of Georgia claims him as one of our most loved native sons, Sumter County is especially proud to simply call him a neighbor.

President Carter’s name is not to be mentioned without our First Lady, Rosalynn. The two together have proven to impact the world and their love story is quite literally what many dream of. In his 98 years our President has proven what the strength of God can do. It is not unnoticed, and the Carters very life is testimony of how to impact a whole world. However, as the world is sending their best wishes and fond memories, we too would like to do to the same for our neighbors.

The Americus Times Recorder got in touch with four people who consider the Carters influential in their lives. Laura Bauer McConatha, National Program Director (retired)  at Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, Mike Cheokas, Georgia State Representative and Barry Blount, past mayor of The City of Americus and Sam Mahone, Civil Rights Activist and Historian offered their thoughts and well wishes.

Laura, having worked for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers has an upfront seat to the love story which belongs to the Carters. Her memories are sweet, in her words:

Laura Bauer McConatha, retired from Rosalynn Center for Caregivers

“During my 20-year career at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, I was blessed to witness the lifelong love affair between President Carter and Rosalynn often. They held hands every time I saw them together, and I have precious memories of adoring glances that passed between them. Besides these physical gestures, each time I heard President Carter give a speech or accept an award, he always said Rosalynn was his rock, his best friend, and the reason he was able to accomplish what he had. His giving her credit for being the wind beneath his wings touched me profoundly.

One very special memory occurred at the 20th anniversary of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. President Carter was out of the country monitoring an election, and unable to attend. As the anniversary gala began in the Georgia Southwestern State University Storm Dome, our staff received word from the Secret Service that he had arrived in the building to surprise Rosalynn. I was onstage with her when he came in behind us. When she saw him, she burst into tears of pure joy. The looks of love shared between them when they embraced made me unexpectedly begin to cry right along with her.”

Representative Mike Cheokas has the privilege of serving the Carters as their state representative. From the Well of the Georgia House of Representatives he spoke these words on February 21, 2023:

State Representative Mike Cheokas

“As many of you know, President and Mrs. Carter are my two most famous constituents.  I’ve been asked about the news that President Carter is receiving hospice care at his home in Plains. Well… We are all keeping him in our prayers.   President and Mrs. Carter are woven into the fabric of our community.  Even with their political success, President and Mrs. Carter have remained good neighbors and are active in the community.  Just in the last few weeks they were seen riding around the Plains.  For the last few years, their son Chip Carter has been making weekly trips to Plains to visit his parents and attend to the family business.  President and Mrs. Carter are both devout Christians with an unshakable faith. They are both passionate about making this world a better place. And through The Carter Center here in Atlanta, that’s exactly what they have done. “Fighting disease. Waging peace. Building hope.”  Again please keep President Carter and the Carter family in your prayers.  Thank you.”

Past Mayor Barry Blount explains how his life was shaped by the decisions Carter made in the Georgia Senate and how his influence taught him the importance of civic duty.

Barry Blount, Past Mayor of City of Americus

“”President Carter is indirectly responsible for me moving to Americus. In 1963 as State Senator Carter was a part of the Georgia Legislature, he was the Chairman of the Higher Education Committee. His deepest desire was to turn Georgia Southwestern into a four-year college. He had some competition to get it done but that trademark Carter determination would not be quelled. It ultimately came to fruition and because of this, my dad, John Blount, was hired on as a professor in 1964 to teach history and economics. The Blount family moved to Americus in 1964 and I was eight years old. As GSW grew into its four year status, its reputation for excellence also grew, and I also decided to stay in Americus and attended the college. Falling in love with GSW was an easy task and I graduated with a BS is Political Science in 1978. Because of President Carter’s work, there are many stories like mine, and the landscape of Sumter County was forever changed and giving us the grand honor of being able to boast one of the finest four year higher institutions in the state.

After graduation, I began my career in banking for the Bank of Commerce in 1978 in Americus. Falling further in love with my home I decided I wanted to serve it by being Mayor. My service as mayor lasted 16 years and I got a front row seat to seeing Sumter County grow in large part because President Carter held a passion for GSW. The people who have made Sumter County home because of having a four-year university is immeasurable and we get to enjoy neighbors who might have never made it here if not for President Carter’s efforts. We certainly wouldn’t be able to enjoy being a home and having the resources which a four year university brings to a community.

President Carter has been a force all over the world. But our world is Sumter County, and he has made it better by his efforts, his kindness, the experiences he offers us and by the fact he calls Plains and Sumter County home.

In 1972, I attended the Georgia Boys State Convention and was able to hear Governor Carter speak in the state capital. It was a thrill to see someone form my home county in such a role. During the spring and summer of 1976 I have fond memories of playing church softball As a young softball church league player, we would often play our game and then head to Plains to enjoy the camaraderie of being in the excitement of a political scene in 1976. We got to see how locals hold up one of their own by cheering his successes as he ultimately was elected President of the United States. As a young man, I saw the power in being a steward of service through him and those experiences would stay with me as I decided to also serve my community. President Carter, by any account, is an influential man for the betterment of our world. I am proud to call him a neighbor. I am proud to say I got to experience so many things, Sumter County in particular, because of his influence. Tami and I wish him and our First Lady all the best, they remain in our prayers and in our thanksgivings. Even now he is setting an example and influencing so many. His character is good. I hope we all invest in our little corner of the world as he has done.”

Sam Mahone, a civil rights activist and historian has a very unique look in the Carters. Sam is currently serving as the Chairman of the Americus-Sumter County Movement Committee Remembered is currently leading the charge to restore the Historic Americus Colored Hospital. His history and his family’s history are marked by the President. As Sam tells the story:

Sam Mahone, Chairman of ASCMRC

“As Chairman of the Americus-Sumter County Movement remembered Committee, I have been fascinated and immersed in collecting the history of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement in Americus and Southwest Georgia. That research eventually led to me learning more about the family history and contributions of countless African Americans in Sumter County. Eventually this expanded quest for these untold narratives led to an important story of my own.

Twelve years ago, upon attending the funeral services for a close family relative, I learned of the story of how my grandfather who was originally from Alabama, wound up in Georgia. The son of my father’s brother who lives in Macon relayed the story of our grandfather Sidney Mahone, having to flee Alabama with only the clothes on his back. He had been threatened by a white sharecropper after an argument over wages owed him. Fearing for his life he made the trek across the state line and eventually wound up in Archery, Georgia. Faced with the daunting task of beginning a new life under uncertain circumstances, he found work doing odd jobs provided by the Carter family. Because of their generosity, my grandfather was soon able to have the family he had left behind join him in Archery.

Armed with these new revelations from my cousin, I traveled to Archery and came upon the African American Cemetery established by the St. Mark AME Church of Archery. It was there that I found the headstones marking the final resting place of my grandfather, his wife and at least nine other close family relatives. It was really eye-opening for me because it reminded me of all the conversations my family and I never had regarding our own family history. Recognizing this I immediately had to put it all into perspective and realize that a great deal of my family’s struggle was informed by the pain of injustices they suffered as black folk trying to raise their family in the Jim Crow south. Many of their painful stories were simply kept to themselves rather than pass them on to their children.

Sam Mahone’s family headstone.
Photo Credit: Sam Mahone

When the ASCMRC acquired the use of the Americus Colored Hospital building, President Carter was one of the first persons to reach out to us for clarity around our mission to establish a Civil Rights and Cultural Center. In 2013, the ASCMRC celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Americus Civil Rights Movement and President Carter was honored for his local, national and global humanitarian efforts. For three years in a row we requested, and he wrote impassioned support letters on our behalf for funding from the National Park Service to restore the building with Historic Preservation Funds. There is no doubt that his words had an enormous impact on our ability to secure three consecutive years of grant support, and for that, we will always be eternally grateful and indebted to him.”

These are but four stories of the impact one neighbor made on another. There is power in reaching one person at a time. The whole world can change by reaching one and living out an authentic life set on values learned over a lifetime. The way we serve, the way we love, the dreams we have for our life and our world, they are taken one step at a time. Those steps are being seen and they matter, they matter deeply. While the Carters are but one example of this, we too can begin to see how we live out our values, love and dreams impacts far more than just one. We begin to talk of legacies when people age. Those legacies are in fact created a day at a time from day one. The Americus Times Recorder, as well as Sumter County is hoping for the Carters the Peace which goes beyond our understanding. We a standing with the Carters as we celebrate them, not just today but for 98 years. Legacy indeed.