Jimmy Carter’s narration about his childhood during the depression on a farm in Archery, Georgia – An Hour Before Dawn: Memories of a Rural Boyhood – is a charming autobiography which gives us a better understanding of our 39th President. I was impressed with Carter’s hands on work in all aspects of farm life, even as a young boy, and marveled at how the family survived lacking the amenities which we now take for granted, such as running water, electric lights, flushing toilets, and refrigeration. The simplicity of life required hard work and the hidden dangers threatened the life expectancy of the community. For example, it makes one wonder if the prevalence of pancreatic cancer in the Carter family might be connected with the arsenic they used as a pesticide. (At ninety three, Jimmy Carter beat the odds, although he recently had a melanoma which the doctors successfully treated).
While Carter has written numerous books, this one focuses specifically on the people who influenced his childhood, with a brief nod to his wife Roslyn, who grew up in the nearby town of Plains, and her support of his decision to move back to the farm, ending a successful career in the Navy to return to his roots.
Carter’s father was an industrious, hard working gentleman who carved out a successful career through his farmland, a concessions store, and various businesses, such as a sugar refinery, which provided the services necessary to make farming a self sustaining enterprise. While some landowners took advantage of the situation, Carter’s dad treated his workers fairly, and his integrity rubbed off on his son. One industrious sharecropper even saved enough to purchase a parcel of their land (which was eventually returned to the Carter homestead well after Jimmy’s father’s death).
Despite the respect Jimmy had for his father, it was the individuals who surrounded his life in those early years who shaped his character. He spent most of his time amongst the colored workers on the farm, with their children naturally becoming his best buddies. Carter didn’t realize the difference between the races, the separation by color in social situations was simply a part of southern living. He often slept over at the foreman’s house sharing a room with his son (who he considered his best friend), and it was Mrs Clark who taught him the moral lessons which influenced his life’s work.
As far as the title, an hour before dawn was Jimmy’s favorite time of day. A pleasant writing style full of humor and insights, I listened to the audiotape (an abridged version of the book) which was read by the author. Four stars.