In the early 1970s, the Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention sought to develop a formal Oral History Program. The purpose of the program was to gather the oral memoirs or recollections of individuals who were first-hand participants in important and significant events. Commission staff conducted interviews with former presidents of the SBC, leaders of the controversy in Southern Baptist life in the 1980s-1990s, and other significant Baptist individuals. In 1991, Bill Sumners, Director and Archivist for the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives of the Historical Commission, wrote a letter to former President Jimmy Carter requesting to interview Carter about his Baptist faith. Carter agreed.
James Earl Carter, Jr. was born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia. His father, James Earl Carter, Sr., was a farmer and his mother Lillian, a nurse. He was educated in the Plains public schools and graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1946, the same year he married Rosalyn Smith. He served throughout the United States and around the world during his naval career but returned to Plains when his father died in 1953 and worked with the family’s peanut farm. He was active in his church, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, serving as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. In 1962, he was elected to the Georgia Senate; in 1970, Carter became Georgia’s 76th Governor. Jimmy Carter served as President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. In 1982, Carter and his wife Rosalyn formed the Carter Center with the mission of a commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 and has dedicated much work with the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.
This oral history interview was conducted by Bill Sumners September 17, 1991 at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The interview concerns Carter’s religious life and influences of his faith and Baptist heritage. Carter describes his involvement in church and Sunday school during his childhood in Plains, the influence of pastors at Marathana Baptist Church on his life and faith, how he prepares his Sunday school lessons, the importance of involvement in a local church, the servant role of elected officials, ways in which Carter’s Baptist background shaped his attitudes regarding human rights, the role of faith in facing difficulties and disappointments, and Carter’s evaluation of controversies within the Southern Baptist Convention. Historical Commission staff transcribed the video recording and prepared the final transcript. The interview was published in the January, 1997 issue of the journal Baptist History and Heritage. The transcribed interview is any word searchable.