2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas March 14-15

Fort Gaines, Georgia Wednesday March 15

A view of George Walters lake from George Bagby State Park

Wednesday, March 15
Quite the contrast from the red soil peanut farm and farm business of President Jimmy Carter to President Donald Trump’s gold gilded Trump Tower. Carter has only been ranked 26th of 43 presidents (Trump obviously has not been rated yet.). However, Carter’s style, humble beginnings, and morality stand in sharp contrast to the current president.

We bring this up because we spent part of today touring the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains GA. (His Presidential Library is in Atlanta.) The site includes his boyhood farm home, his school, and his 1980 presidential campaign headquarters in the Plains railroad depot. (The depot had been closed and it became the campaign HQ since it was the only available large facility in Plains that had a bathroom.)

Carter was born in 1924 into a middle class family. We viewed the farm home the family moved to in 1928 on a farm that raised cotton, peanuts, corn, watermelon, sweet potatoes and sugar cane. A vegetable garden and livestock provided additional nourishment. The farm grew to over 300 acres and his father added a “store” that stocked provisions needed by locals who could not easily get into Plains three miles away. The Carter family later added electricity in 1937 and a windmill came in 1935 to provide running water to the house. The shower faucet was a large pail with holes punched in the bottom.

Like most farm kids, Carter worked on the farm with mixed enthusiasm. One hated task was something called “mopping” the cotton, a term I had not heard of previously. Mopping was done to poison boll weevils that were devastating to the cotton crop. Boys would take a mixture of arsenic, molasses, and water and apply it with a cotton mop to the bud of each cotton plant. His legs, feet, and pants would become covered with this goo-which also attracted insects.

A montage of Carter Historiccc site photos: boyhood home, Chris by black desk, Carter election signs, Jimmy and Rosalyn wedding

Carter’s mother “Miss Lillian” was a nurse and frequently gone from the home when the kids came home from school. On a black desk by the front door, she would leave a “to-do” list of chores that had to be completed. At age 68, Lillian Carter joined the Peace Corps serving in India.

Carter has stated that both of his parents played a strong role in his development. He won an appointment to the Naval Academy and married Rosalyn after graduation. He was on a fast track to rise high in the ranks when his father died in 1953. When he returned to Plains for the funeral, he realized what a positive impact his father had on individuals in the community. He decided to resign his commission and return to live in Plains and run the family farm and business. Rosalyn was not pleased, she was getting used to Navy life and seeing the world. She indicated she pouted for about a year before learning to like and accept life.

Carter grew the business and decided to enter political life with his first position being on the local school board. He went on to the Georgia State Senate, then Governor, and finally President. The pace upward was not without hardship. The school position created local animosity when their plan to consolidate schools was seen as a ploy to integrate schools. His first Senate campaign required a judicial challenge to overcome election fraud by the entrenched politicians who thought he was too liberal. His first run for governor was a loser and he ended up $66,000 in debt.

Race wise, Carter was a product of his times. He grew up in segregation and accepted it. He was not hard-core, accepting black friends and neighbors. He refused, as a local businessman, to join the White Citizens Council, which cost his business needed revenue until the issue died down. His family’s effort to allow local blacks to enter their Maranantha Baptist Church was defeated soundly. (Carter has stated his religious beliefs were minor until he lost the race for Governor and spent time reflecting on his life.) Nevertheless, he was not a leader in the segregation efforts of the 1960s but as he became Governor, he pushed extensively for inclusion of blacks and women into state government.

Carter has credited his teachers, and his principal, at Plains for pushing him to excel. His principal, Miss Julia Coleman, used to tell her students to study and work hard and even a child from Plains could grow up to become the U.S. President. She died in 1973, not seeing her protegé become President. Carter said at his inauguration one of her famous sayings: “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”

While Carter only served for four years, he and Rosalyn have led a post-presidential life that exemplifies the concept of working for the benefit of all mankind. He still teaches Sunday School and he and Rosalyn join other members of their small church community to cut grass and maintain the church facilities. They have established the Carter Center that focuses on peace, nation-building, and eradication of diseases in third world countries.

Carter also still volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. We left Plains for Americus GA, 10 miles away to have lunch and visit the Global Village and Discovery Center of Habitat for Humanity. Lunch was first of course. Our chosen spot, listed in AAA, was full and we walked to a local independent bookstore and cafe. We did not buy any books but did have a croissant sandwich made on the premises.

On the left, two slum, pre-Habitat housing shots; on the right, a new home outside and inside

Habitat has its headquarters in Americus due to history. The founders of Habitat were members of a “commune” called Koinonia located just outside Americus. Koinonia started in 1942 and due to its acceptance of people of all races, it was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s. They survived and prospered, growing more when a wealthy couple, Millard and Linda Fuller, sold their possessions and became its leaders. Fuller recruited Jimmy Carter and that added to the acceptance and prestige of Habitat. (Fuller was fired in 2005 over a combination of a disagreement in management philosophy and some allegations of improper behavior.)

In any event, Habitat is now recognized worldwide as a leader in building sustainable homes for people in poverty. The Global Village recreates a collection of “before” and “after” housing. A visitor walks down a street of shacks typically found in slums around the world. Then the scene changes and one views typical homes constructed in various countries, adapted specifically to the weather and building materials of the specific country.

Four of the many small churches we passed along the back roads

We returned to our lodging, once more driving down two lane roads, viewing red clay farm soil, noting the numerous small churches dotting the countryside, and observing the acres of forest that are the backbone of the lumbering business in Georgia. One final stop was visiting The Walter George dam and lake on the Chattahoochee River. The lake is what we can view from our lodging at George Bagby State Park. The Chattahoochee River is a source of contention between Alabama, Georgia and Florida. I do not know all the details, but evidently Florida believes the Atlanta metropolitan area is sucking up too much water and depriving the mussel industry in Florida of sufficient water resources. The staff member at the visitor center was doubtful of any near term resolution.

Tuesday, March 14
This post covers Tuesday and Wednesday. We did not believe Tuesday was robust enough to post by itself. We left Oxford Alabama and drove to Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. Yup, two lane roads, rural countryside, and a gray, drizzly day to boot. Horseshoe Bend was one of two battles which Andrew Jackson won and which propelled him to the Presidency of the United States. Horseshoe Bend was the determining battle of the Creek Indian War. (The second was the Battle of New Orleans-part of the War of 1812.)

The Creek Nation lived in what is now Georgia and Alabama. As the European settlers expanded across the country, the Creek Nation was split between groups; one that was willing to cooperate with the settlers and adopt their ways and goods versus the second which wanted to hold fast to their traditional culture, way of life, and land. As these things will do, a series of small atrocities led to a complete war between the US and the more traditional Creeks in 1813-1814. (While during the time of the War of 1812, this was a separate conflict.)

An aerial view of Horseshoe Bend where the battle was fought

Andrew Jackson lead the U.S. military troops and suffered two early defeats. With reinforcements, he pursued the Creeks who were spending the winter at Horseshoe Bend with their families behind a strongly built barricade across the neck of the bend. At the end of March 27, 1814, 800 of the 1,000 Indian warriors were dead and their families sold into slavery. In August of 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson stripped the Creek of their remaining lands (most already ceded in earlier treaties). The treaty made no differentiation between the Creeks who fought and those who wanted to live like the Europeans.

In 1828, Jackson became President and in 1830 signed the Indian Removal Bill requiring southeastern U.S.tribes to move west of the Mississippi River in a dreadful forced march called the “Trail of Tears.”

Art Museum of Auburn University

After Horseshoe Bend, we spent a little time in Auburn Alabama, home of Auburn University. We visited the Art Museum of the university which had a special exhibit of works by Jiha Moon. She is a Korean born artist now living in Atlanta. It was not spectacular but succeeded in using up time before we checked in to George Bagby State Park in Fort Gaines, GA.

Walking the Chattahoochie Trail at George Bagby State Park in Fort Gaines GA

We are staying in the lodge here, built in 1988. The rooms are like old style highway motel rooms, but clean and neat. Not fancy, no Ritz Carlton; although I have only stayed in a Ritz Carlton once and it was on another organization’s dime. Tuesday after arrival, we took a walk through the trails while the sun was still somewhat warm. We were a little confused on the trail, not lost, just confused. I blame it on the poor quality of the map, not the map readers. Wednesday we stuck to the paved trail, no confusion ensued.

There is a restaurant here. None of the literature we recall reading indicated the restaurant was seasonal; i.e., it was closed Tuesday night. The nearest open restaurant was a five table pizza/barbecue place 20 miles away. We made it before they closed and the food was tasty.

Two other groups are staying at the park. A group of utility line workers repairing storm damage and a group of GA DNR water rescue instructors. Due to the DNR group, the restaurant was open for breakfast and dinner today (Wednesday) and may be open early enough Thursday that we can eat and leave. Thursday is a long driving day down to Miami Beach, over 550 miles so it is likely there will be not be a post Thursday evening.

Ed and Chris

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