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October 21, 2002

Plains friends greet Nobel-winner Carter

By Eric Rangus

Out of sight of the 13 television cameras trained on the podium, draped above the Old Bank Café in downtown Plains, Ga., was a large, handwritten banner: “Congratulations, Jimmy. We Love You.” It was signed, in purple marker, by a host of names—George + Gail; Trent + Audra; Billy H, to name a few.

All were friends of Jimmy Carter, Plains’ most famous resident, and the folksiness of those friends’ and neighbors’ appreciation made his hometown the perfect place for the former president’s first public comments after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Friday, Oct. 11.

“I am delighted, humbled and very grateful that the Nobel Peace Prize committee has given me this [award],” said Carter at a noontime press conference at the antique mall in Plains. He was dressed casually in a polo shirt and khakis. In addition to reporters, a crowd of perhaps 200 from Plains and the surrounding area attended, many of them fanning away gnats on the steamy southwest Georgia afternoon.

Since losing the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan, Carter has dedicated himself to human rights and “waging peace.” He has observed elections in troublespots throughout the world, mediated conflicts and had helped battle deadly diseases in Third World countries. Much of that work has been accomplished through the Emory-affliated Carter Center.

“The last 20 years, I’d have to say, have been the most gratifying of all,” said the 78-year-old Carter, who was notified of the award that morning at 4:30 a.m.

The Nobel decision was not without politics. “In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power,” read the Nobel citation, “Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights and economic development.”

Gunnar Berge, Nobel committee chairman, said the award to Carter “should be interpreted as a criticism of the line the current [U.S.] administration has taken.”

“There’s no doubt that the government of Norway and the Nobel Peace Prize committee have inspired a deep awareness around the world for people to speak out for peace and human rights,” said Carter, who at his Town Hall appearance at Emory last month criticized President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy and warned against a unilateral attack by the U.S. against that country.

“The Nobel Prize was designed to honor individuals,” Carter continued, “but it can send a message about honoring international law and the partnership the United States must maintain as the only superpower and an integrated part of the world community.”

Carter added that he hoped the United States would continue to work with the United Nations (UN) through crises like the Iraq issue and that the UN would take strong action concerning Iraq’s compliance with current resolutions.

Despite the mention of Iraq, politics took a backseat during Carter’s 20-minute appearance. He said receiving the award probably wouldn’t change him. He’d still be teaching Sunday school two days hence, and on Monday, Oct. 14, he would be flying to Jamaica to observe an election.

The award carries with it a $1 million prize. Asked what he planned to do with the money, Carter quipped, “Well, I haven’t asked Rosalynn yet,” referring to his wife, who was seated in the front row. Carter then said he plans to give it all to the Carter Center, a comment that was greeted with applause.

Carter came to Emory 20 years ago as University Distinguished Professor and head of the Carter Center. In 1986, the Carter Center moved into facilities near campus at the new Carter Presidential Center, which includes the Jimmy Carter Library. Carter often is a visiting lecturer in a variety of Emory classes. The Carter Center operates in partnership with Emory as a separately chartered adjunct of the university. The center is governed independently by a board of trustees that includes President Bill Chace and nine University Trustees.

“On behalf of everyone at Emory, where President Carter has served for many years as a member of the faculty, we are immensely proud that the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to this messenger and apostle of peace and understanding,” Chace said. “When he goes forth from the Carter Center and from this campus to wage peace, he does so because his experiences have taught him that war is not necessarily the best answer to conflict, but rational discussion and respect for others can be.”