This fall, the New Baptist Covenant will hold its first national meeting since 2008. convened by President Carter in the late ’90s, the association of Baptist denominations is an unmistakable symbol of President Carter’s values: a humble and spiritual commitment to racial reconciliation and social justice.

At a time when racial discord is as rancorous as ever, President Carter talked to CT about growing up in the pre–civil rights movement South, his recent attempts to combat racism, and why he thinks race relations are worse today than they were in the ’60s.

When did you become passionate about racial reconciliation?

Our family—my father and mother, my two sisters, and I—would be invited to come to St. Mark’s Church. We were the only white family immersed in a black culture—not only in the cotton, peanut, and corn fields where I would hunt, fish, and play with my black playmates, but also in their church.I grew up in the isolated rural community of Archery, [Georgia,] which is about two-and-a-half miles west of Plains. The number one church there, then and now, was St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. And the number one citizen in our community was a bishop of five AME churches in the North, William Decker Johnson. When he came home, it was the biggest news in Sumter County. It would be front page headlines of the county paper that Bishop Johnson was home for the weekend.

What were you taught about race in school?

When I got to be six years old, I went to a school in Plains with white classmates. This was in 1930 or so. It was accepted then that the races would be completely separate as far as social affairs were concerned. Blacks had their own schools and their ...

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