Small Town with a Big Future

Plains, Georgia is probably the most famous small town in the United States, and we all know why- it is the home of Former President Jimmy Carter.

President Carter teaches Sunday School at the Maranatha Baptist Church . The church attracts about 10,000 visitors a year.

"I am sure the Vatican or Westminster Abby or some of the great cathedrals might top that," said Pastor Dan Airial, "But in none of the others do you have to sit through a worship to get what you came for in the first place, a chance to be photographed with President Carter after worship."

How does Plains' main tourist attraction see the town today as compared to his boyhood? Carter said it was a lot more crowded on Saturdays. "So, one time weekly they would come to Plains to do all their shopping."

The Cordele to Plains excursion train that will start service in October reminds President Carter of the trains of his boyhood. Carter and his black buddy, would flag down a passenger train as it passed near the Carter farm on Saturdays.

The friends rode into Americus to go to the Rylander theater. There was major social difference then. "He went to the colored section, I went to the white section" Carter remembered. "We got off the train in Americus, both hand in hand sometimes down the street to the theater. I would buy my ticket for downstairs, he'd buy his ticket for upstairs, and then we'd meet after the movie and come back the same way. Separated on public transportation and the theater, but bound together, I guess, just like brothers would be back on the farm"

That farm is now restored to the way it was in 1937. "It takes me back to the time there was, you might say, an encapsulated protected life of very hard work compared to standards of today," Cater said, "When people were basically happy, and although not prosperous financially, we didn't lack for anything."

Plains High School is now a museum. How did education there when he was a boy, compare to education now? Carter said it was better. More parental involvement. Rigid curriculum discipline. Today's kids may see that think differently. "The children now, of almost all ages, have more freedom now, more opportunity to expand their own minds, to stretch their thoughts, to learn about the rest of the world, to escape from, you might say, from the discipline and close supervision of home life. And now, quite likely, children would consider that to be better."

Tourism in Plains hit its peak when Jimmy Carter ran for president. In one day, 10,000 people converged on campaign headquarters, the Old Depot, in 1976 when Carter won the election.

By Dick McMichael