Jimmy Carter photo

Columbia, South Carolina Remarks at a Meeting With State and Local Democratic Leaders.

October 31, 1980

Mr. Mayor, my good friend Governor Riley, Fritz Hollings, the fine Members of the Congress, Butler and Ken, Mendel—it means a lot to me to be here with you—Bob McNair, my old friend, who was one of the leading Governors along with Fritz Hollings, that set a standard for me to try to follow when I became Governor.

I'm very glad to be in South Carolina. I just have been concerned, as I told the students, that this Saturday, South Carolina and Georgia are going to be playing against each other and— [laughter] —I'd like to remind you that no matter how it comes out, I need your support on Tuesday—Okay?— [laughter] —because when the Heismann Trophy comes to Columbia, to your Gamecocks, don't forget that your Heismann Trophy winner come from Duluth, Georgia. [Laughter]

We've got a lot in common. When Ann Williams was singing, I remembered my years when I was 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, I always came every summer to spend a week or two down by Abbeyville, Greenwood, Ninety-Six with my grandmother's people, the Pratts. There was a little railroad stop there, and it was named Pratt. And when anybody asked me where I went to South Carolina, I just said, "We went to Pratt, South Carolina." [Laughter] There was only one family that lived there, but— [laughter] —it's about the same size as Archery, Georgia, where I grew up.

I thought a lot about what to talk about this morning, because I want to be brief. I'm not going to make a political speech as such. But I tried to think back in my own lifetime about things that might be interesting or important to you. I did grow up during the Depression years on the farm, and I saw how my own life was transformed by a Federal Government that I felt cared about us. We didn't have running water. We didn't have electricity.

I grew up like many of you. The bell rang on our farm at 4 o'clock in the morning Sun time. And we caught the mules in the barn lot, and we were in the field waiting till it got bright enough to see how to plow and not plow up the cotton and corn and peanuts before the Sun ever rose. And we got home after sundown, and then had to pump water and feed the livestock before we went to bed that night quite early. We had a battery radio—that was it—to keep track of the outside world. And then the REA program came along, and later the minimum wage for the workers in the factories to do away with the sweatshops, and then social security. And people in the South began to have a better life.

My daddy got involved in politics, because he was on the Sumter Electorate Membership Board. He was the first board member. I think it was in 1937, when I was 13 years old. And it kind of opened up a better life for us. And then I was like a lot of you, my family came to this country in the early 1600's, 1630's, and went from Virginia to the Carolinas, North Carolina, then down to Georgia before the Revolution.

All of us have been farmers—not a single one from me back to that first settler that didn't farm. My daddy didn't finish high school. Neither did his father nor any of our ancestors. I was the first boy that ever finished high school. And my daddy was in the military in the First World War, first lieutenant, and his ambition for me from the time I was 5 years old was to go to the Naval Academy, and I did. But the military, West Point and Annapolis, to us was the ultimate in what a southern young man could achieve. And to get a college education was something that was a dream that very few people realized.

When I came home from the Navy after 11 years, I was still filled with my southern heritage and my southern commitments. We were approaching a time of testing of this Nation and this Southland, more severe than anything since the War Between the States, because at that time, black people couldn't vote. And a lot of people didn't see the devastation that was being wreaked on white and black by racial discrimination in an absence of equality of opportunity. I served on a local school board, went on there in 1954 and went off in 1962. It was worse than being President. [Laughter] Tough years.

A lot of you remember it, because the Governors and the State legislators and others right then didn't want to touch school integration. And the school board members had to do it. And when it was HEW saying, "Do it," a lot of southern white people didn't do it. But when the Federal courts and the Constitution of the United States was put before us, as is the case with the southern character, we revered our Constitution, and we complied with the law that transformed our life for the better. And it opened up a new era for the Southland.

My service there on the local government taught me a lot about what needed to be done, and I ran for the State senate, because I wanted to continue some progress in Georgia to have a better school system. You all had a better one than we did when I was elected to the State senate. And when I got to the State senate, I only wanted one assignment. And that was to be put on the education committee, because I saw that as the biggest challenge for the South, to give our young people's minds a chance to grow and to develop and to give our children a better chance in life than we had had, even, and to see the grandchildren come along even better. And I served on the education committee; I was the secretary of it, and I was chairman of the university committee in the Georgia senate, served two terms, then ran for Governor.

I was defeated in 1966. I was a newcomer to statewide politics; nobody knew who I was. I came close, but I was defeated. I learned a lot out of that defeat. I went around the State of Georgia for 4 years. I shook hands with 600,000 people. My wife went one direction, I went another. I learned a lot about politics. And I learned to tie my own political future with a direct contact between me and an individual voter. And I went to the voters who quite often felt that they didn't have a chance to let their voices be heard. And then I became Governor and served along with John West and other great southerners and people from all over the country, and got—to know about this Nation. And then, of course, I was elected President.

But I've had a chance as a school board member, as a State senator, as a Governor, as your neighbor, as a President to see the necessity for a partnership, not just between the Federal, State, and local governments but among organizations that represent people outside of government, and among those individual human beings in this Nation who ought to be part of and who are part of the history, the present, and the future development of our country.

I've won some political victories that people didn't think I could win. I was not predicted to win in 1976, as you know. South Carolina gave me a great victory here, and it was crucial in the very close election between myself and an incumbent President, Gerald Ford, who had repaired the damage that Richard Nixon and Watergate had done. A lot of people felt obligated to him because he had done a good job. And it was a difficult thing, but I think the overriding feeling in that '76 election was the choice between what the Democratic Party stands for and what the Republican Party stands for. It doesn't change much.

You can go back during those years that I described to you earlier. The Republicans .were against social security. The Republicans said that REA was a socialist plot to inject the Federal Government into the private enterprise system of this country. When the Democrats put forward a 25-cent minimum wage, Republicans were against it. They said that a grown man and a grown woman trying to feed children and pay rent, buy food, wasn't worth 25 cents an hour. I got out of high school in '41. My first job was working for the government, measuring land 10 hours a day, 40 cents an hour. I had to furnish my own car and pay the expenses. But that was a lot of money for me, $28 a week, I got. That was the minimum wage then. Republicans were against the 40-cent minimum wage. It hasn't changed much. Medicare, a program that provided older people with a modicum, at least, of health care: Democrats put it forward; Republicans were against it.

The South is looked upon as a conservative region of the Nation, and I don't disparage the word "conservative," because conservative in a way means to conserve precious things. But the connotation of conservative to mean the preservation of power and the deprivation of equality of opportunity is something that I turn against.

The South's been always interested in a strong defense—always. Whenever our Nation's been tested in war, the battleground casualty figures and those lost in prison camps have always shown that the South came forward, quick, patriotically, and first. But at the same time we know the value of peace. No part of the Nation has suffered so much from the ravages of war as Georgia and South Carolina. But we know that the preservation of peace is dependent on strength not only strength militarily but strength of character, unity, confidence, respect for one another. And I got elected President because the Nation was ready to change.

The last President from the Deep South was James Polk, who was elected in 1844, and between 1844 and 1976, there was not a chance for anyone from the Deep South to be elected President. But the country's changed, and I think there's now a realization that we're one nation and that some of the things that have stirred in the South—progress, technology, better education, more equality, harmony, friendship among people who are different-has been an inspiration to the rest of the country.

Well, next Tuesday the Nation will make a decision about who will lead our country the next 4 years, yes, between two men, between two parties, but also between two futures. And I hope that this next few days you'll think back on our past, blacks and whites, what we've done together, what the Democratic Party's meant to us. Our country's at peace. It's been 50 years since a President could stand before any audience and say, "We haven't had a war since I've been in the White House." And I hope we can go 4 more years, through strength, keep our Nation at peace.

So, to conclude my rambling remarks, I'd like to say this: I've come here as a friend and as a neighbor, kin to some of you, to ask you for your help, because the election is going to be very close. And I believe that the issues at stake are important to you, important to your family, to those you love, and to those who look to you for leadership. You've been invited here to the Governor's Mansion because you are leaders. And there's no one in this group that can't reach 500 or a thousand people, maybe even 10,000 people through the radio and so forth between now and November the 4th, next Tuesday.

And I'd like to ask you as a special favor, as a neighbor, as a southerner, as an incumbent President, as a Democrat, as a friend, to go a second mile for me this last few days. It's important that I and the Democratic candidates who are running with me on the same ticket in South Carolina be elected. We'll try to continue the heritage that's made us a great part of the world. We'll try to bind ourselves closer together in the spirit of common belief in liberty, in freedom, in human rights, in respect for one another, in the characteristics of which I'm very proud as an American.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:20 a.m. on the lawn of the Governor's Mansion.

Jimmy Carter, Columbia, South Carolina Remarks at a Meeting With State and Local Democratic Leaders. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251944

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