An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood

by Jimmy Carter

Hardcover, 2001

Call number




Simon & Schuster (2001), 284 pages


In an American story of enduring importance, Jimmy Carter re-creates his Depression-era boyhood on a Georgia farm, before the civil rights movement that changed it and the country. In what is sure to become a classic, the bestselling author of Living Faith and Sources of Strength writes about the powerful rhythms of countryside and community in a sharecropping economy. Along the way, he offers an unforgettable portrait of his father, a brilliant farmer and strict segregationist who treated black workers with his own brand of "separate" respect and fairness, and his strong-willed and well-read mother, a nurse who cared for all in need -- regardless of their position in the community. Carter describes the five other people who shaped his early life, only two of them white: his eccentric relatives who sometimes caused the boy to examine his heritage with dismay; the boyhood friends with whom he hunted with slingshots and boomerangs and worked the farm, but who could not attend the same school; and the eminent black bishop who refused to come to the Carters' back door but who would stand near his Cadillac in the front yard discussing crops and politics with Jimmy's father. Carter's clean and eloquent prose evokes a time when the cycles of life were predictable and simple and the rules were heartbreaking and complex. In his singular voice and with a novelist's gift for detail, Jimmy Carter creates a sensitive portrait of an era that shaped the nation. An Hour Before Daylight is destined to stand with other timeless works of American literature.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tgoodson
The rural South in which Jimmy Carter grew up was a world increasingly unfamiliar to contemporary people. Carter's memoir will prove more and more valuable as time passes.
LibraryThing member jastbrown
Enlightening story of growing up in the impoverished, rural South. Except for different crops, not that much different than impoverished rural anywhere.. but an engaging account of family and friends who made it not only endurable but enjoyable.
LibraryThing member carterchristian1
It sounds so "like" Carter. He is simply telling the story of his family life and growing up,but it also shows what rural Southern life was like in those days.The black and white family photographs are excellent. I happened to buy this book and another ,Circling Home by John Lane who describes in a
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sense writing as a travel writer at the place you life, indoors and out. These two books seem to come together with a common theme.
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LibraryThing member ltfl_nelson
This is biography of past President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. It looks at how his upbringing in southern United States by poor but hard working peanut and cotton farmers influenced his later political thinking. Very well written.
LibraryThing member fulner
This audio book was great. The story flowed well and likely could have been about most anyone who grew up in the south at those times. I definitely saw correlation between what our president experienced and the way he is now, and similarly with my father-in-law who is only slightly younger than Mr.
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I found it surprising how much respect he had for his father even though from the stories he tells it sure sounds like he wasn't deserving of that respect, particularly when you think of "how he knew to go to the back door, and exactly where the Turkey's where and why it took so long to settle up"

I recommend this to anyone, regardless of your political persuasion; it is really less about politics and more about people. Jimmy Carter's voice is great on audio, and I'm sure the hardcopy would be just as entertaining and informative.
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LibraryThing member ALincolnNut
One of the interesting projects in Jimmy Carter's generally well-regarded post-presidency is that he has become a prolific author. After writing the nearly obligatory memoir after he left office in 1981, he has published books on a range of topics from Middle East relations to Christianity; he has
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even tried his hand at fiction and poetry. In the midst of this writing career, he has reflected upon his life in additional memoirs through the years, including an extended consideration of his adolescence in "An Hour Before Daylight."

In this book, Carter writes of his life as a boy in Plains, Georgia, the son of a successful farmer and business owner at the center of rural sharecropping common in the south in the first half of the 20th Century. In straightforward language, Carter shares common experiences of a bygone era – chores and increasing responsibility on the farm; tales from the small school; stories about games, fishing, and Saturday matinees; and the sense that everyone in the small community knew everyone else's business.

In this tale, certain personalities loom large alongside Carter's father, especially his mother. As in many other places, the former president rhapsodizes about his mother's common wisdom and uncommon sense of justice in the Jim Crow south; in this book, he describes how these traits not only affected him but were important to the surrounding community due to her nursing career. Jack Clark, the African-American who helped manage the Carter farm, taught young Jimmy how to do all sorts of things around the farm, and the former president remembers he and his wife Rachel with special affection.

On one level, this is simply the story of a type of childhood once common in the United States, but now mostly a faded relic of yesterday. In this sense, these pleasant reflections seem to be mostly the variety that one imagines hearing while sitting on a porch at the end of a summer day. Two persistent themes elevate the book, though, and make it more historically interesting. First, Carter pays careful attention to the economics of sharecropping and the small Southern town during and after the Great Depression, offering an accessible social history of this once-common economy.

More importantly, and sometimes more devastatingly, Carter describes race relations before the Civil Rights movement had forced itself into the national consciousness. Not only does Carter describe the general social customs that maintained segregation between the races, even as their lives overlapped due to geographic proximity and simple economics; he also describes this personally. As a boy, young Jimmy played with others nearby who were close to his age, regardless of their race. But these relationships changed over time, at first subtly, and then more openly, and by his high school years Carter admits that only his relationships with other whites were on an equal basis.

Like Carter's other books, "An Hour Before Daylight" is well-written and a pleasant read. Unlike his policy books, there is little here that will raise controversy among most readers; similarly, though, there is little here that will strike most readers as memorable or exciting. Still, the observations on sharecropping and race relations are encouragement enough for those interested in American history. Beyond that, only those wanting to reminisce about a culture slipping away or those who are serious students or fans of Carter will likely find the book to be of substantial interest.
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LibraryThing member cataylor
The president's childhood is fascinating and very readable. Growing up on the farm, the chores that began at an early age, and the work ethic instilled by his parents give us insight into this devoted family man and humanitarian. If you grew up in the rural south, youll be able to relate.
LibraryThing member bluesviola
read but a year later don't remember anything, so i have not rated it.
LibraryThing member lndgrr
Interesting, pleasant read about Jimmy Carter's childhood.
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
I saw Mr. Carter discussing his book in a TV interview, and bought the book on the basis of that discussion. It is an intriguing read; I learned a good many things, but not necessarily what I expected to learn. The Carter family was fairly well off--owned land, businesses, etc., but still had no
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running water in the house. Mr. Carter claims that some of the policies of the New Deal harmed the poor farmers they were intended to assist. He lost his father, brother and both sisters to pancreatic cancer. His mother ied of cancer too, although she lived to be quite old. He attributes all these deaths to smoking. Carter emerges as a real person with ordinary human failings, but no corruption or hypocrisy. His writing style is a bit dull at times; he talks much more easily. 3 1/2 stars

Reviewed January 15, 2001
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LibraryThing member dandelionsmith
In the first Election of a United States President that I remember, Jimmy Carter was the clear winner. Though I haven’t always agreed with his political decisions and opinions, I have long admired the man as.a Christian, as a statesman, and as a humanitarian. In this book, he writes of his rural
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boyhood, and the people and events that shaped him. He provides thought-provoking insight into the history and norms of the Southern community that affected his views on race, on poverty, on the law, and on faith. It is equally a wealth of the daily experiences of rural life from a man of my father’s generation.
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LibraryThing member MarkLacy
This wasn't bad, but I had a hard time understanding why it was an acclaimed memoir. What I consider a meaningful memoir is one that draws on universal truths that we all experience, things that are more than just surface level events. There was a little bit of this, but not very much.
LibraryThing member bell7
Jimmy Carter recounts his boyhood growing up on a Georgia farm.

The only reason I picked it up was because it fit a book challenge I'm working through this year, and I'm really glad it prompted me to read this. Carter grew up in Archery and Plains, Georgia, working on the farm with his dad and
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alongside black sharecropping families. The style is somewhat meandering and conversational, but I went along for the ride and especially appreciated his reflection on segregation and his experiences and influences as a child. An enjoyable memoir from the 39th president of the United States.
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