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.
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.
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.
Reviewed January 15, 2001
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