It began as curiosity and grew to a fascination with the life and times of former United States President Jimmy Carter, and his wife, Rosalynn.
That 20 year fascination has lead to the publication of Dr. Stanly Godbold’s latest book, “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: The Georgia Years 1924-1974,” and an additional book that is expected to be published in 2014.
Godbold will discuss his latest book at Wednesday’s Books and Authors event at noon at the Starkville Public Library. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Library.
In the summer of 1987, Godbold had just completed a book and was working on a summer
project at Princeton University, when he saw a news story about Jimmy Carter attending a book fair in Nashville, Tenn.
“I was curious about what he had written and initially planned a short article on Carter as a writer,” Godbold said.
“When I first went to the Carter Library in August 1990, I discovered a gold mine of 28 million primary documents, many of then untouched, and decided I would take on the challenge of writing a comprehensive biography.”
Godbold describes himself as “an old-fashioned, just the facts ma’am-type historian,” and adheres to the contemporary written source as much as possible.
“The information in this book is mostly about the Carters nobody knows, and it helps explain how they would succeed to win the presidency and conduct themselves in the White House,” Godbold said.
While teaching full-time at the Mississippi State University Department of History, Godbold spent all of his free time, summer holidays, sabbatical leaves and long weekends doing intensive research, mainly in the Carter Presidential Library and the Georgia State Archives.
During that time, Godbold also interviewed the Carters at their home in Plains, Ga., along with Tip O’Neil, Cyrus Vance, Edmund Muskie, Stansfield Turner and others.
“Except for the Carters, I concentrated on interviewing those who had not given so many interviews, as well as a number of relatively unknown people in Georgia who knew much about the Carters and their pre-presidential lives,” Godbold said. “Some of this material is in the current volume, but much of it will be in the next volume.”
Godbold was surprised by the discovery of the major role Rosalynn plays in the story, and the inaccuracy of many of the popluar myths about the Carters.
“Believe it or not, he was more interested in politics and business than he was politics and religion,” Godbold said.
Very early in the project, Godbold realized that the Carters had such a close personal and professional relationship that it was impossible to tell the story of one without telling the story of the other, and made the book a dual biography.
The current volume tells the Carter’s story from ancestry through the governorship.
“They grew up in the same area, married very young, shared the Navy career, built a multi-million dollar agribusiness together, and in 1970, became political partners when they successfully campaigned for governor of Georgia,” Dr. Godbold said. “This volume deals with her as an astute business woman, expert political strategist, independently minded politician, as well as First Lady of Georgia, wife and mother.”
Godbold said he hopes readers will learn more about the influence of Carter’s ancestry, family, military career, business experience, and marriage to Rosalynn on his development and political thought.
Carter’s role in Southern politics is a major theme in this book. Godbold details Carter’s entry into politics in 1962 when he won a contested election for the Georgia State Senate.
Godbold said Carter benefitted from the Supreme Court’s one man/one vote decision and the civil rights movement. Carter lost to Lester Maddox in 1966, then posed as a conversative in 1970 to win enough Maddox and Wallace votes to win the governorship.
“At his inauguration he declared that the day for racial discrimination in Georgia was over, won a national reputation, and was often described outside the South as ‘a Southern Kennedy,’” Godbold said.
The book describes all of this in detail, as well as how he gained control of the national Democratic party in 1974 and thus presented himself at a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1976.
Carter became the first president who was a resident of the South to be elected president since 1848.
Godbold is professor emeritus of history at Mississippi State University. He has a doctoral degree from Duke University and is the author of three previous biographies of southerners, one of which received the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award in 1991.
When not in Atlanta, Ga. at the Carter Presidential Library, he lives in Oktibbeha County with his wife, Jeannie, and their cats, Tommicat and Houdini.
For more about the book, join the discussion at Books and Authors at noon Wednesday at the Starkville Public Library.
There will be two additional opportunities to meet the author, including a booksigning from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Book Mart in downtown Starkville and from 3 to 4 p.m. Nov. 2 at Barnes and Noble Bookstore on the MSU campus.