USF professor studies Carter's hometown
Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 02:07
A detailed anthropological study of a now-defunct, agricultural town where Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the 39th U.S. President lived as a young boy, is in the process of being completed.
USF professor of anthropology Antoinette Jackson was commissioned by The National Park Service, a federal agency that manages all national parks, monuments and historical properties, to conduct a full examination and study of Archery, Georgia, the predominantly African-American community where Carter lived with his family from the age of four to 17.
“Any story about a president’s life and what influenced him and things people may not know about his life is important because he is the president,” Jackson said. “Understanding the history of a community in relation to the president in and of itself has value.
Jackson said that on a broader scale, studies of these types of communities are vital because they pick up stories, events and traditions that have been ignored or not been included because of racism, sexism and general prejudice.
This study helps to “broaden the story” of how African Americans lived during times of segregation, she said.
In an audio recording of an interview with Jackson, Carter said a state law mandated school bus fenders to be painted black if the buses carried black children, and cited the prevalent racism as the reason he went into politics.
Carter went to a white high school in Plains, a town 2.5 miles away from Archery, but black students couldn’t go to white schools in Plains and didn’t have any educational institutions in Archery for many years.
Carter’s family was one of two white families that lived in Archery, and there were 25 other black families in the community at the time.
Jackson said Carter’s family moved to Archery because the land for farming was very fertile. Carter’s father oversaw the family farm, which grew peanuts, cotton and other crops, and Carter’s mother was a trained nurse who provided medical care in Archery.
But Carter’s former hometown is a far cry from what it is now.
Steve Theus, a representative for the National Park Service, said the school built for black students was burned down, and all that is left of the community is the church and a couple of buildings after the development in surrounding areas quickly surpassed Archery.
“What (Jackson’s study group) did is it put together a map for us so we can look at the map and see what the whole community looked like,” Theus said.
Jackson said the study took about three years and involved about seven undergraduate and three graduate students on her research team. Together they spent time with and extensively interviewed former Archery residents, collected oral histories and general data, and documented other information related to their fieldwork.
Mainstream American history tends to focus on the racism, segregation and exclusivity during the 20th century, Jackson said. In addition to offering insight into Carter’s life, Jackson’s study on Archery also showed how these marginalized communities survived in spite of adversity.
“In the midst of that, people were able to educate themselves, their families, maintain houses and do all those things to keep moving forward,” she said. “It kind of sheds light on what people in those kinds of situations were doing elsewhere that we don’t hear about.”