I only met Mr. Carter once. But I never forgot the encounter.
Before he announced plans to run for the Democratic Party nomination for president, many political pundits raised doubts about the likelihood of a peanut farmer from Georgia winning his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. True, he had been elected governor of Georgia and served in executive positions with the party and the National Governors Conference. But the naysayers remained dubious. So, apparently, did many in the news media.
That doubt, in my opinion, explains, in part, why then Gov. Jimmy Carter was a guest on the public affairs program that I produced and hosted at WJXT -TV in Jacksonville, Florida. My ratings were mediocre. The more popular public affairs program was hosted by veteran journalist Dick Stratton later in the day. I don’t know if Carter’s publicist pitched Stratton’s show, but I was more than happy to accept the offer for the governor to appear on mine, live at 10 a.m.
There was another reason Carter may have selected my program. It was called “Kutana,” and was aimed at covering issues of significance to the African-American communities in our listening area. The coverage area included southeast Georgia and the northeast quadrant of Florida, including Gainesville, home of the University of Florida.
Carter had stressed racial equality throughout his political career. There were some awkward moments, for example, his opposition to school busing. But, compared to the political stance of Georgia’s governor in 2023, Carter would be described, today, as a left-leaning radical political liberal on matters of race.
At the time of the interview, I had been at WJXT less than a year and had little experience as an interviewer of anyone. I prepared a list of questions and welcomed Carter to the studio. I remember his piercing blue eyes, a thousand-watt smile and a vice grip handshake. I cannot remember any of my questions but I do recall that he answered all of my inquiries.
Years later, when I had more experience interviewing politicians – in Connecticut, New York, Washington, DC and other locales around the country, I noticed that many politicians did not answer questions, directly or indirectly. They used reporters to repeat their ‘talking point’ of the day. That was not Carter’s approach. He seemed to me to be honest, sincere and focused.
I recall feeling that I was in the presence of greatness. I cannot explain the reason for that feeling, but that’s what I recall.
After our interview, I went to the newsroom to suggest that one of WJXT’s reporters might want to interview the governor. I told the news director and assignment editor that I found Carter to be very impressive and that he might surprise everyone and win the nomination. My opinion, as a young inexperienced broadcaster, carried no weight, The news managers decided that his appearance on my morning shows was enough.
Months later, I smiled when Jimmy Carter received the Democratic Party nomination and later was elected President of the United States. Despite his critics, I believe he was one of the best presidents of my lifetime. Carter kept America out of war, took major steps towards appointing people of color to significant policy positions and, literally, changed the face of the federal judiciary.
He did not have an opportunity to fill a U. S. Supreme Court seat, but two of his lower court appointees, Judges Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, would later be elevated to SCOTUS.
In retirement, he set a new standard for altruism and concern for the welfare of people in need. His support of HABITAT housing is just one example here in America. Abroad, his desire to support free and fair elections gave citizens of other countries an opportunity to select political candidates of their choice
As we all prepare to bid this brave, honest man farewell, I join all who thank President Carter for his service to Americans and people throughout the world.
Randall Pinkston was an Overby Fellow in 2022. He was a Producer-Host, WJXT -TV 1974-76. He was the first African American to anchor the #1 newscast at Mississippi’s #1 television station. He was a correspondent for CBS Evening News as well as a contributor, reporter and correspondent for other CBS news broadcasts. In 2013, he ended a 33-year career with CBS and and was a freelance journalist for Al Jazeera America. He has taught at Columbia University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the City University of New York, Morgan State University and The University of Mississippi.