What about Jimmy?

When I speak about “The Class of ’65,” people often ask about Jimmy Carter and whether he supported Koinonia when it was being terrorized and boycotted. The answer is complicated. Jimmy left the Navy and moved back to Sumter County with Rosalynn after his father died in 1953, a few months after my main character, Greg Wittkamper, settled at Koinonia with his family. The bombings and drive-by shootings targeting the communal farm started not long after that. The Carters were among the most progressive families in the county and resisted pressure to join segregationist groups like the White Citizens Council, which cost them some business at their peanut warehouse. Jimmy did not fall in with the local boycott against Koinonia -- in fact, he shelled some of their peanuts -- but did he do everything he could have to publicly support the embattled community? Well, he didn’t exactly mount a soap box and speak out for a group of people who were widely seen as communists and race-mixers. If he had, he probably never would have been elected dog catcher, much less state senator, governor and president of the United States. Launching a political career from the dying embers of the segregationist South was a delicate matter for a man who believed in the new order and came to embody it. Carter eventually embraced Koinonia and helped turn its most famous offspring, Habitat for Humanity, into one of the most beloved nonprofit organizations in the world. His White House chief of staff was Hamilton Jordan, nephew of Koinonia’s co-founder Clarence Jordan. So when I’m asked about the Carters and Koinonia, I say that they did what they could at the time ... and later did a great deal more. As the former president begins treatment for his melanoma, we can all endorse the sentiment of the latest campaign sign that's popping up in Plains, Americus and beyond: “Jimmy Carter for Cancer Survivor.” God bless and keep you, Mr. President.