Plains, Georgia just happened to be near my real destination as I drove north in to Georgia from Central Florida. I'd just witnessed a shuttle launch for the first and probably only time of my life and, imbued with a new found spirit following the recent events of September 11th, was back on my journey of discovery, finding my future through the history of this great nation called America. I never bothered to clock the miles I'd driven since leaving Chicago and swinging through the upper Rockies and Texas before stopping last in Florida. That might have been an interesting number to track but I just wanted to get away with no rules or requirements. After Mt. Rushmore and the plains of Texas I was now zeroing in on the headquarters of the Peanut Campaign.
Jimmy Carter came literally out of nowhere from this small farming town in Southwestern Georgia. He demonstrated an early temerity to defy the Washington establishment by running his campaign from a railway station that ran through the town known previously for its cotton and peanut farms. After his one arguably disastrous administration he retreated to the area with his entourage including Rosalynn, arguably the most gracious First Lady in contemporary history, his mother Miss Lillian and good ol' boy brother Billy. He and Rosalynn still call the area home where he teaches Sunday School at a local church whenever he's not rescuing hapless Americans from Korea in his capacity as elder statesman and Most Congenial ex-President of the United States.
It was unnerving to roll through acres of cotton still on the stalk waiting to be picked. I didn't want to think about who actually did this backbreaking and historically cruel and menial labor today. I didn't see any peanuts and wasn't looking for any, either. Carter's compound off of Church Street is well protected by trees and fencing, leaving very little of the main house to see from the road and, after a stop at the town cemetery to see Miss Lillian and Billy, pretty felt the tour of Plains was wrapped up. I remember as a teenage in 1977 that something about Mr. Carter didn't settle with me, the first stirrings of political activism. I just didn't like the guy and didn't really know why. After four years in the White House I was able to more clearly articulate why my first gut instincts were right. Time to leave.
On the same side of I-75 running north between Tampa and Atlanta, on the west side about 20-25 miles off the interstate and just north of Americus, the next biggest town to Plains is Andersonville. What? Where?
As a child of the military fortunate enough to live overseas I was well acquainted with the concentration camp history of the second world war. It wasn't until later that I discovered the concentration camp went back in American history to the Civil War and on both sides. Of these camps Andersonville has been acknowledged as the absolute worst of them all. No wonder few people hear of it today or stop to visit at least while on the way to somewhere else. Since we don't openly discuss the Civil War in polite conversation today it remains all too easy to dismiss, deny and diminish such atrocities on our own shores.
It is better not to talk about it people say. Which is exactly why I decided to come and see for myself.