Pat Jarrett, The News Leader/AP
Former President and first lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter received an award honoring their humanitarian efforts from James Madison University's Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence on Sept. 21. The Carter Center and Library reopens Thursday after a $10 million renovation.
Former President and first lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter received an award honoring their humanitarian efforts from James Madison University's Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence on Sept. 21. The Carter Center and Library reopens Thursday after a $10 million renovation. Pat Jarrett, The News Leader/AP
When former President Jimmy Carter celebrates his 85th birthday on Thursday, it will coincide with the reopening of his library and museum in Atlanta.
After a $10 million renovation, the library includes an area that focuses on Carter's life post-presidency. Carter is one of the first past presidents to have lot of time to reshape his image after leaving the White House.
The retooling of Carter's museum and library began in April. Museum Director Jay Hakes says the original museum, which opened in 1986, was good for its time, but after 23 years, it needed some updating.
"Technology has changed," Hakes says. "The Carters have lived a lot longer so there was a lot of work for us to do."
The size of the museum didn't increase, but much of the focus has changed to highlight Carter's post-presidency.
"Anybody who knows Jimmy Carter knows he does not like to be idle," Hakes says. "So you know it was kind of logical, I guess, that he would end up being a very active ex-president."
The new museum highlights Carter's presidency with flair. Inside a rotunda, you can experience an exhibit called "A Day in the Life of a President." Half a dozen 14-foot-high screens document a single day beginning with a wake-up call where you hear the president answering his private telephone.
As a clock displays the time, a collage of images surrounds you. Using a technique reminiscent of the television show 24, the screens reveal Washington monuments, photographs of Carter's Cabinet briefings and copies of once-classified documents.
The former president says sorting through more than 5,000 pages of diary notes in preparation for the new exhibits made him realize how many issues he faced that are still relevant today — including health care, energy policy and negotiating in the Middle East.
"What President Obama has to face is exactly in many, many areas what I had to face back in those days," Carter says.
Since what Carter calls his involuntary retirement in 1981, he has monitored more than 70 elections all over the world and worked to eliminate disease in the poorest countries. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 and has continued meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders — often condemning Israel's actions.
The Carter Center
An interactive table in the newly renovated Carter Center. Visitors can take a virtual trip with the Carters around the world, by touching sections of the table's surface.
An interactive table in the newly renovated Carter Center. Visitors can take a virtual trip with the Carters around the world, by touching sections of the table's surface. The Carter Center
And the former president speaks his mind. Carter recently said he believes racism is the reason for the harsh political criticism of President Obama.
"And this radical right-wing fringe element that is so vituperative and filled with hatred, I think needs to be addressed by the vast majority of Americans," Carter says. "I'm not talking about partisan politics. I'm talking about Republicans and Democrats. So far, unfortunately, very few Republicans have spoken out against this."
The White House discounted the race theory, but Carter's comments ignited a new debate.
A New Trend For Former Presidents
Former presidents are showing up much more these days. Bill Clinton, who negotiated the release of two American journalists from North Korea in August, recently talked about the trip on The CBS Late Show with David Letterman.
"Most presidents have died in office unfortunately or shortly thereafter and so there are very few to look to see a model of continued public service," says James Thurber, a presidential historian at American University in Washington, D.C.
Thurber says Americans and others throughout the world now expect past presidents to continue their legacy.
"It's like a chapter in the White House and then [they are expected] to continue their work after they leave office," Thurber says. "And I think that Carter and Clinton have established that track record."
At the newly designed Carter museum, an interactive table allows visitors to touch images projected on it and follow the travels of President Carter. You can get a virtual passport, take quizzes about conditions in remote countries and e-mail the experience to friends and family.
President Carter says his updated museum is the first in the country to highlight a president's long-term role.
"I think this will be very interesting to visitors who've never seen such a presentation," he says. "And it also gives scholars — and even grammar school and high school students — an insight into how the president's years can be related intimately with what the president does after we leave office. So I think that's the kind of instruction that will be unprecedented."