Rosalynn Carter: ‘The Best Part’ Ended. Then Came the White House.

Highlights from her autobiography

Tucker Lieberman
6 min readNov 20, 2023

--

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter waving to a crowd from the top of the steps of an airplane as they depart Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. He’s wearing a dark suit. She’s wearing a soft white coat with a matching belt wrapped around it. They’re smiling.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter departing Reagan’s 1981 inauguration. NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive

Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady of the United States, died today at age 96. In her 1984 autobiography, First Lady from Plains, she recalled:

“With Jimmy’s [1977] inaugural, we hoped to set a tone for an open, inclusive administration, one that would focus on all kinds of people…We planned a simple inauguration, a ‘people’s’ inauguration, so that everyone who came would find something fun or meaningful to do.”

She understood that “we are answerable to all the people — and indebted to so many whom we will try forever and never be able to repay.”

She Grew Up in Plains, Georgia

Rosalynn was born in 1927 to Frances Allethea “Allie” Murray and Wilburn Edgar Smith. She grew up in the small town of Plains, Georgia, where her mother grew flowers like “zinnias, petunias, hollyhocks, [and] crepe myrtle” as well as “fig, pear, pecan and wild cherry [trees], and pomegranate bushes.” Young Rosalynn once tumbled out of the sitting room window into a rosebush. They had a milk cow, pigs and chickens. She learned to sew. There was “no movie theater, no library, no recreation center,” but she read “Heidi and Hans Brinker and Robinson Crusoe.

The schools and churches were racially segregated, and when a Black person visited a white person, they had to knock on the white person’s back door. Rosalynn spent a lot of time in the town’s Lutheran, Baptist, and Methodist white churches, where she was taught to believe that God’s love was conditional on good behavior. Jimmy Carter wrote in his memoir An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (2001) that Rosalynn’s Baptist grandfather forbade the family to “play cards, fish, or go to movies on Sundays” and that the churches discouraged drinking.

Rosalynn’s best friend was two years younger; this was Ruth Carter, Jimmy’s sister, just because “there were literally no other girls in town my age.” (The Carters had once lived next door to them but then moved a few miles away.) Not until seventh grade did Rosalynn start to understand there was a world beyond.

--

--

Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/