Remarks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Georgia
October 1, 1986
President Reagan. President and Mrs. Carter, reverend clergy, Governor, Mr. Mayor, the distinguished guests here, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that I often get invited to library dedications. There aren't that many people still around who knew Andrew Carnegie personally. [Laughter] But President Carter and Mrs. Carter, it is indeed an honor for Nancy and me to be here. None of us today need feel any urge, in the name of good will, to downplay our differences. On the contrary, in a certain sense we can be proud of our differences, because they arise from good will itself -- from love of country; for concern for the challenges of our time; from respect for, and yes, even outright enjoyment of, the democratic processes of disagreement and debate. Indeed, from the time of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, frank debate has been a part of the tradition of this Republic. Today our very differences attest to the greatness of our nation. For I can think of no other country on Earth where two political leaders could disagree so widely yet come together in mutual respect. To paraphrase Mr. Jefferson: We are all Democrats, we are all Republicans, because we are all Americans.
Now, it occurs to me after the tour that Nancy and I just completed that in dedicating the Carter Presidential Center we have set ourselves no easy task. To name just a few of the Center's aspects, there are facilities for organizations that will address President Carter's special concerns, such as human rights, and some 27 million documents that scholars will be poring over for decades to come. Of course, the Carter Presidential Center will mean something different for each of the millions who will visit it and benefit from it each year. But going through the Jimmy Carter Library just now and admiring the many photographs and films, it struck me that perhaps the central gift that this Center will give to the Nation is a story -- a story of one man's life, a story that is distinctively American.
In one of its aspects, the story of President Carter is the story of the family in which he grew up. Jimmy Carter's father taught him the virtues of hard work and self-discipline: From the time he was 6, he knew that when the farm bell rang James Earl, Sr., expected to see him out of bed and going to work with everybody else.
President Carter. Amen. [Laughter]
President Reagan. He and his sisters and brother -- Gloria, Ruth, and Billy -- gave each other strength and support; Ruth especially providing counsel through all the long years, all the joys and disappointments, until her death in 1983. He misses her still, as do all who knew her. And then there was Miss Lillian -- exuberant Miss Lillian, Miss Lillian who went to work for the Peace Corps in India at the age of 69. Miss Lillian taught Jimmy Carter charity and justice. She taught him to care for all, regardless of race, especially those weaker and less fortunate than himself. And she taught him to laugh. Surely, Mr. President, James Earl, Sr., Ruth, and your precious mother, Miss Lillian, are with us today as we dedicate this Center in honor of one who loved you so much.
In another of its important aspects, the story of President Carter is a story of the South. For when Jimmy Carter was born on this date in 1924, many southerners knew only poverty, and millions lived lives that were separate and unequal because of the color of their skin. There's a photograph inside the Library that sets the scene: A little boy is drinking from a fountain. He is black. He's drinking from that particular fountain because on a tree next to the fountain there's a sign that reads ``Colored.'' Well, the world has changed now. It has changed because men and women like Jimmy Carter stood up in church to protest the exclusion of black people from worship, and it has changed because Jimmy Carter spoke those words in his inauguration address as Governor of Georgia: "I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over. . . No poor, rural, weak, or black person should ever again have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity for an education, a job, or simple justice.''
That old world has been replaced by a new South, a South that combines the best regional traditions of pride and hospitality with a new sense of openness and opportunity for all. For at the same time they were combating discrimination, southerners like Jimmy Carter were hard at work -- applying new techniques to farming, opening new businesses, and encouraging new industry. And in so doing, they were expanding economic opportunity and raising levels of education at historic rates. One need only look at Atlanta -- bustling, prosperous Atlanta -- to see that the South has truly risen again, transformed, self-confident, moving vigorously on to still greater justice and opportunity. So, in dedicating this Center today, I want to express what all of us feel today in this beautiful Georgia landscape: That this celebration is in a sense a celebration of the South -- the new South that Jimmy Carter helped to build.
Yes, yours is a powerful story of family and region. Yet for all that, Mr. President, I cannot help thinking that, in perhaps its most important regard, yours is a story of dedication to so many of the fundamental values that made our nation flourish and grow great. Certainly the value of hard work is apparent throughout your life. There were those early days of manual labor on the family farm; then came the years in the Navy, working for a man never known for being an easy taskmaster, Captain, later Admiral, Hyman Rickover. Jimmy Carter distinguished himself under Captain Rickover for his application to duty, for using his gifts -- in particular, his superb intelligence -- to the utmost. He would likewise distinguish himself when he returned to the family farm and expanded it, again in his early political life as State senator and Governor, and perhaps most dramatically in those 2 grueling years during which he made political history, going from ``Jimmy Who?,'' to use the cartoonists' phrase, to 39th President of the United States.
Beyond hard work, there are the values of perseverance, loyalty, and family. I've already mentioned the family in which President Carter grew up, but of course I must mention the family he and Rosalynn raised. And as a grandfather myself, I can't resist pointing out that the Carters' four children have been joined by four grandchildren. And then there's perhaps the most basic value of all: the value of faith -- faith that endures, faith that gives strength and consolation and joy. President Carter is above all a man of faith; time and again throughout his life, at moments great and small, President Carter has turned to prayer. When he learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated, Jimmy Carter knelt outside the farm warehouse in prayer. When he became President himself, it was prayer that sustained him. He knew that -- well, he knew what I have learned myself -- that, as Lincoln put it, the burdens of the highest office in the land would be intolerable without the help of the Almighty. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that when he got up this morning President Carter said a prayer of thanks for all that would happen on this day. So it is that when we dedicate this Center, Mr. President, we dedicate an institution that testifies, as does your life itself, to the goodness of God and to the blessings He bestows upon those who do their best to walk with Him. I can think of no greater gift that you could make to our nation.
Well, I must thank you once again, Mr. President, for inviting us to be here today. It's been a high honor indeed. I'm afraid we won't be able to linger after the program is concluded. Congress is still in session, and, as you know, somebody has to keep an eye on them. [Laughter] So, I wonder whether I might close now with a few personal words -- words, if you will, from one President to another. Mr. President, you and Rosalynn know that the White House is a place that resonates with history, with memories. And as you know, Mr. President, these White House images, these memories, provide hope and inspiration to anyone who lives there. They remind him that he has examples of greatness to live up to, and they let him know that whatever challenges he faces others have faced challenges like them.
And I must tell you, Mr. President, that your countrymen have vivid memories of your time in the White House still. They see you working in the Oval Office at your desk with an air of intense concentration, repairing to a quiet place to receive the latest word on the hostages you did so much to free, or studying in your hideaway office for the meeting at Camp David that would mark such a breakthrough for peace in the Middle East. Others will speak today, Mr. President, of all phases of your political career and your policies. For myself, I can pay you no higher honor than to say simply this: You gave of yourself to this country, gracing the White House with your passion and intellect and commitment. And now you have become a permanent part of that grand old house, so rich in tradition, that belongs to us all. For that, Mr. President, I thank you, and your country thanks you.
And there's only one thing left to say. From the 40th President to the 39th, happy birthday! And, Mr. President, if I could give you one word of advice: Life begins at 70. [Laughter] Thank you all. God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 12:13 p.m. at the Center. In his opening remarks, he referred to Gov. Joe Frank Harris and Mayor Andrew Young. Prior to his remarks, the President and Mrs. Reagan, accompanied by the former President and Mrs. Carter, toured the Jimmy Carter Library. Following the ceremony, President and Mrs. Reagan returned to Washington, DC.