History: Jimmy Carter’s church & integration impacts

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 6:22 PM EST
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PLAINS, Ga. (WTVM) - As Former President Jimmy Carter of Plains, Georgia remains in hospice care, we’re learning more about his hometown church’s history, and how Carter’s fight for integration in the 1970′s is making an impact on today’s congregation.

Maranatha Baptist Church was birthed back in the late 1970′s. It all stems from an African American reverend requesting to join the, at the time, President’s church-- Plain’s Baptist-- and ultimately being denied. This, causing a lot of political controversy, and several church members leaving to build the now Maranatha.

“Jimmy saw no difference in what color somebody was,” Jan Williams, Maranatha Church member and employee said.

Located off a desolate road in Plains, Georgia and surrounded by tall pecan trees, Former President Jimmy Carter, an active member of Maranatha Baptist Church since its birth in the late 1970′s.

Hundreds of people travelling from across the world to this church each Sunday for decades to get the chance to hear Carter teach Sunday School.

But Maranatha Baptist stands for more than just a place for people to come for worship: it’s a place built on a foundation of integration, welcoming people of every race and religion.

“There was an African American man who heard Jimmy Carter talk about his faith, going to church, teach Sunday school classes,” Williams explained. “So this Reverend, C.B. King out of Albany, Georgia, wanted to come to our church and join our church at Plains Baptist. We had a lot of meetings and the vote was to not let the man come in.”

This-- sparking controversy and negative political publicity for the, at the time, hopeful-president Jimmy Carter.

As a result, 29 church members from Plains Baptist broke off from that congregation, ultimately becoming the pioneers who built Maranatha.

Not long after, they received another call from Reverend King.

“He called the church, and we said sure, come right on,” Williams said. “We’ll let you preach and give you some other jobs.. but he never came.”

Plains native Mary Minnion explained the city, especially the churches, would not be what they are today when it comes to integration if it were not for Carter.

“President Carter had a huge impact on that and so did Brother Dan,” Minnion remembered. “They would come to our church, and we would come to ours, from then on, we would communicate together.”

Since, Maranatha Baptist hired its first lead Black pastor who served for several years. He stepped down in 2021.