Driving through Plains, Georgia, in the early part of this century, you'd think you were out West or on the set of an old cowboy movie.
There is a long line of stores, and on the opposite side of U. S. Highway 280 is a railroad track. Stopping for a few minutes, and imagining the highway to be a dirt road, in the distance you might have looked to see a few men on horseback riding toward you.
Today the scene is different, but it's still a very small town; a place where strangers are rare, and where people speak to each other or smile and wave as they pass.
Located about sixty miles from Macon, and fifty-five miles from Columbus, Plains, with only about 700 residents, is really in the backwoods of Georgia.
How could anyone have thought that a young peanut farmer from this obscure village could become president? But he did. This town is the birthplace and home of Jimmy Carter, thirty-ninth president of the United States.
And the town has changed considerably.
If you drive through Plains today, you'll see an old train depot that Carter used as his presidential campaign headquarters. This is now owned by the U. S. Park Service, which offers a walking tour of the town.
The building where Jimmy attended school is now the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site Visitor's Center, the place were he met his future wife, Rosalynn.
When Jimmy was thinking about running for a state office he sought advice from his friends and family; they encouraged him to go for it. Richard Hyatt, in his book, "The Carter's of Plains," recalls how a Baptist revival meeting was held in Plains and the preaching evangelist was entertained at the home of Lillian Carter. Her son, Jimmy, was there.
Jimmy told the preacher of his plans, and the preacher said: "If you want to be of service to other people, why don't you go into the ministry or some honorable special service work?"
Appalled, Carter came back with a stunning question - one that gave the preacher something to ponder for a long time to come: "How would you like to be a pastor of a church with 80,000 members?" This "Church" was the district he'd represent as a state senator.
We know now that Jimmy Carter didn't take the advice of the preacher; he listened only to the voice of God.
This was the beginning of Jimmy Carter's long, lingering road to the White House.
James Earl Carter, Jr., was born in Plains on October 1, 1924.
He attended the public schools of Plains through the eleventh grade. After attending Georgia Southern College and Georgia Tech, he received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, and upon his graduation in 1946, he married Rosalynn Smith.
During this first race for governor, Carter met thousands of Georgians and became acquainted with their needs.
Losing the race, he began immediately to gild the state with his warm smile and burnish every public place with his speeches.
Winning the Democratic primary, he then launched a blustering campaign against Republican Hal Suit and won the election with nearly 60 percent of the votes.
As governor, Carter was an innovator. He completely reorganized the state government - the first reorganization in forty years.
Convinced that it was God's will for him to be president, he turned to Hamilton Jordan, his executive secretary, for strategy. Hamilton drafted a 70-page campaign plan, and Carter moved through it methodically, step by step.
It worked like magic.
When Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for president on December 12, 1974 to an expectant and vivacious crowd of supporters in the Civic Center in Atlanta, the rumors became real. Was it time for a man from the Deep South to become president?
Voices from Georgia to Washington said "No." but when Carter said: "I am at this moment a candidate for the presidency of the United States, he meant it.
In the nomination speech he made in 1972 for Henry M. Jackson for president, he gave the ideal he later would personify. He said, "We need a man for president who will shape our nation's foreign policy - not with crisis, but by a consistent, constant commitment to friendship and peace."
Then, as president, he fulfilled these prophetic words by doing what no other president had been able to do in thirty years when he negotiated an end to the war between Israel and Egypt.
Carter's zealous commitment to a better America was seen in the deregulation of the airlines and significantly reducing unemployment. While he was not successful in stopping runaway inflation, he did put into effect measures that would later do the job.
Returning from the Oval Office to Georgia, Carter became "former president turned professor" when he was given a teaching position on American history and international affairs at Emory University.
Between teaching and writing books, Carter keeps moving and stays in the spotlight.
Carter will always be remembered as the first Georgian and the first Southerner from the Deep South to become president.
Out of office, Carter has continued to demonstrate his radiant, bright-winged leadership in world affairs. His Christian idealism, his keen vision and his boundless energy have been effective and inspiring.
It all makes you wonder what might have happened if he had taken the advice of that preacher and had become a minister. But who can say he didn't?