As it becomes clear that former President Jimmy Carter’s days on Earth are ending, many people are reflecting on his tenure in office from 1977-1981. Many Americans will remember accomplishments such as Camp David Accords that had Egypt recognizing Israel or the Panama Canal treaty giving that central American country the right to manage the international passageway. Others will remember not-so-good events such as the taking of American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran by followers of Ayatollah Khomeini or the economic crisis in late 1979 and 1980. District residents will remember the former president fondly.
Carter shocked the world when he announced soon after moving to the District from Plains, Georgia that his daughter Amy would attend Stevens Elementary School in Northwest. Children of presidents who are school age generally attended Washington area private schools that are thought to be equipped for public dignitaries’ family members. The first daughter attending a predominantly Black school in the inner city ignited a great deal of national discussion about whether the school was good enough or will she be safe there. Never mind the fact that the school was the closest to the White House and D.C. Public Schools officials were fully prepared to do what was necessary to educate Amy and keep her out of harm’s way.
Additionally, Carter embraced the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provided for two U.S. senators and a representative in the House based on population. While the amendment wasn’t ratified, the president made it clear his support for the measure.
Carter selected District resident Patricia Roberts Harris as his first secretary of HUD. Harris became the first Black woman Cabinet officer. She eventually led the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare and Health and Human Services. District native Eleanor Holmes Norton served as the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the first woman to hold that position, during the Carter years. Norton now serves as the District’s delegate to the U.S. Congress.
After his political career ended, Carter did not end his interaction with the District. He built homes for Habitat for Humanity on Benning Road in Southeast in 1992 and Ivy City in Northeast in 2010.
To honor his devotion to the city, the D.C. Council should name a prominent landmark after Carter. The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center sits on Pennsylvania Avenue NW next to the John A. Wilson Building where the council deliberates. Reagan paid little attention to the affairs of local Washington so it would make sense to name a landmark, such as that building, in honor of a president who cherished the city.