Souther Field, Americus, Georgia

Jimmy Carter

This a frame from a 16 mm film shot at S
outher Field in Americus, Georgia, a few miles from President Jimmy Carter's home in Plains.

Carter is about to board a private Lear Jet to fly to New York City.  He will soon be nominated the Presidential candidate of the Democratic party. CBS Television was flying him  to New York to be interviewed by the program 60 Minutes. 

I was there as a  producer for the CTV program W5 to gather material for a profile of Carter. I was to do the thing with Ronald Regan in his failed Presidential nomination bid against Gerald Ford. Don Newman, then CTV's bureau chief in Washington, was the reporter for both shows.

I was accompanied on the assignment in Georgia by CTV staff cameraman Jim Mercer.  I don't remember if we had soundman.

When we arrived in Plains (Newman couldn't make it) we were told Carter was not available to be interviewed even though he was in Plains, so we had to settle for interviews with Carter's brother Billy, his mother, Lillian, and daughter Amy plus  a tour of Carter's peanut factory by Billy.

All the Carters we welcoming and generous with their time though I have no memory to what they said. We interviewed Mrs. Carter Sr. in the garden of her home and filmed a young Amy playing in a pond at the bottom of the garden

An always smiling Billy Carter personally escorted around the peanut factory. The one memory I took away is that the factory used live traps to catch vermin. A nice Carter  humane touch I thought.

Billy owned a gas station in Plains. I remember watching pickups go by with guns strapped to back of cabs. Also I remember a white guy at the station, pointing to a black man walking past, taping his holstered side arm and declaring with a wink something like "This how we keep these people in line". Chilly!

We did see Jimmy Carter worshiping with his  family at a Black church in Plains but did not expect to meet him.  Jody Powell. his press secretary, told us told us we could only film him boarding the CBS private jet at Souther for New York City There was to be no interviews.

So, very early on a Sunday morning, Powell drove to the Souther Field with us following.  He lost his way but did manage to get to the airfield in time for us to set up our camera a discreet distance from the parked jet.

We needn't have have been so timid, for the moment Carter, his suitcase slung over shoulder,  stepped out of his car he walked straight up to us and said "Who are you?"  Totally unprepared, my head empty of questions,  I said CBC instead of CTV. We did not talk about his Presidential ambitions, or his forthcoming appearance on Sixty Minutes,  but about the tiny airport.  Carter told me Charles Lindbergh made his first solo flight at Souther Field in 1923.  Newman later interviewed Carter in New York  City, in a crowded hallway as I remember.

One final rather shamefaced memory of that trip to Georgia. At  our  motel or hotel in Americas we were told off by a fellow guest for using profanity in the hotel's dinning room.  In a deep southern, mint julep  voice the man called out across the room something like: "Would you watch your language sah, there are ladies present."