Jimmy Carter

— 39th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981

BORN: October 1, 1924
Plains, Georgia

OCCUPATION: Peanut farmer, governor
Rosalynn Smith, 1946
John William, James Earl III, Donnel Jeffrey, Amy Lynn

James Earl Carter was born and raised in the South. He saw racial segregation at an early age because he lived in a community that was populated mostly by black Americans. He was free to play with the black children, but he attended different schools and churches.

Young Jimmy Carter was well-behaved and industrious. He worked in the peanut fields and sold boiled peanuts on the streets of his hometown. His family was well-off compared to other people in the area, but they had no electricity or running water. The only entertainment they had at home was reading or listening to a battery-operated radio.

After Carter graduated from college, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy.Carter graduated in an accelerated class in 1946 and immediately entered the Navy with the rank of ensign. He rose to the rank of lieutenant senior grade before he resigned from the Navy in 1953 and went home to manage the family peanut business after the death of his father.

By using scientific farming techniques, Carter expanded the business and by 1979 became a millionaire. In Plains, he was active in civic affairs and provided a voice of reason by calling for racial tolerance.

Carter's political career began as a Georgia state senator in 1963. He was elected governor of Georgia in 1970.

Carter was not even considered a remote choice for the U.S. presidency when he announced his candidacy in 1974. But he campaigned on restoring trust in government after Nixon's scandalous resignation. He won the Democratic nomination on the first ballot, then he narrowly defeated Gerald Ford for the presidency.

Carter's presidency will be most remembered for two incidents. One is the Camp David Accords of 1978. The other is the hostage crisis in Iran.

Even though he had little experience in international affairs, Carter was able to bring Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for 13 days of peace talks at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. The three leaders agreed on two documents, a Framework for Peace in the Middle East and a Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.

As positive as that was, the Iranian hostage crisis was negative. In 1979, Iranian militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took more than 60 Americans hostage. All of the women, the blacks, and one hostage who was ill were released, but the remaining 52 were held for more than a year. Many believe that this crisis alone was the cause for Carter's failure to win reelection.

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