Jimmy Carter
**FILE** Former President Jimmy Carter prior to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

In June 1976, Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, offered these words: “I sometimes think that a Southerner of my generation can most fully understand the meaning and the impact of Martin Luther King Jr. He and I grew up in the same South, he the son of a clergyman, I the son of a farmer. We both knew, from opposite sides, the invisible wall of racial segregation.”

However, after an April gaffe by Carter where he defended the “ethnic purity” of neighborhoods, his campaign almost imploded under withering criticism from the Black community. But after apologizing, clarifying his remarks, and meeting with local and national Black leaders, Carter was endorsed by Dr. King’s father, “Daddy King,” Congressman Andrew Young and others, and went on to win the nomination and election in November.

Black people put him in the White House by voting for Carter five to one.

As president, he made a series of historic first appointments for Black people, including Young as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Patricia Roberts Harris as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Clifford Alexander Jr. as U.S. Secretary of the Army. In addition, about one-third of the record 260 judges Carter appointed were Black, female or Hispanic.

After leaving office, he established the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum to resolve conflicts, advance democracy and human rights, prevent diseases like guinea worm in Africa, and improve mental health care. Until three years ago, even after a brain cancer diagnosis, he was building homes with Habitat for Humanity.

“But we still have the dream, Martin Luther King’s dream and your dream and my dream,” Carter said later in that 1976 speech. “The America we long for is still out there, somewhere ahead of us, waiting for us to find her.”

We are still searching for the “America we long for.” However, as a nation, we are closer because of the one-term and post-presidency of Jimmy Carter. And as the sun sets on his life, all Americans owe him a great deal of gratitude.

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