Rosalynn Carter’s Return to Plains Remembered as Turning Point

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Annette Wise, past president and current board member of the Plains Preservation and Historical Society, talked about how the Carters came to reside in public housing, the only Presidential family to ever do so.

“Jimmy Carter left the navy in 1953 because his dad died in July, and he had a strong feeling that he needed to come home and he needed to run the family business.”

Wise mentioned that Rosalynn was less eager to return.

“When he told Miss Rosalynn, she was not happy about it at all. She did not want to come back to Plains, at all. She would not even talk to him on the drive from up North, where they were living, all the way to Plains. If she needed to stop for something, she would say ‘Jack, tell your father we need to stop at the rest stop.’”

Wise compared Plains with the previous places the family had lived.

“They lived in Hawaii and all kinds of exciting places and had three little boys, and she just felt like her life was coming to an end, and all the excitement in her life was over.”

Wise mentioned that the Carters qualified for public housing, making only two hundred dollars their first year back. She described the time as a transition point.

“It was a time of adjustment for the Carters. Rosalynn Carter remembers the kids playing in the back yard, and hanging out clothes and then she would go down and help with the books at the peanut warehouse. It was a transition time.”

She mentioned how Jimmy Carter made the best of the situation despite Rosalynn Carter’s reluctance to live in Plains.

“The community involvement from Jimmy Carter in this area led to Plains getting grants for better hometown programs, this was back in the 50s we’re talking about, that led to him being on the Sumter County School Board, that led to him running as a senator, state senator, then that led to him running for governor, and then that led him to the White House.”

For Wise, the story is inspiring.

“Although you’re down on your last dime, if you work hard, you can do great things with your life. And I think that is a great example that the Carters show us, don’t give up, work hard.”

Wise also invited the public to get involved with the restoration effort, mentioning they are looking for donations of antiques from around 1953, such as women’s gloves or tinker toys.

“We’ll have the apartment open for tours, and so people will come to have the opportunity to have something that means something to them tell a story about the Carters. If anybody has something that they are interested in possibly donating, they can contact the Americus Housing Authority and they’ll get them in contact with me. But I’m coordinating collecting the things for the unit, and they can contact me awise@sowega.net.”

George Edge, CEO of The Housing Authority of Americus, described the effort to begin the restoration.

“Our Board of Commissioners have been excited about this project, restoring this unit to the original time. We’re just glad to see a possible end in sight now. We’re hoping that this property where the Carter’s lived will be a part of the history of Plains in this community forever.”

He talked about how the Carters exemplified ideal use of the Housing Authority.

“It’s designed to be a steppingstone. Life changed for President Carter and Miss Rosalynn. It’s just good to know for me that our agency had a hand in providing that needed assistance at that time. It was never designed to be a permanent situation, repetitive years on our program, so they set the perfect example. It is designed to be a temporary stay place until you move to your place of destiny, and theirs was a great destiny.”