Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mr. Jimmy

Way back a long time ago, early in my career, I was the manager of a chamber of commerce in a small west Georgia textile mill town. Small mill towns are really interesting places because they are a microcosm of the greater world but, being small, the players and their roles in the economy and society are more easily identifiable and more clearly understood.

There’s the King (the mill owner) and his court. The tradesmen (inner-circle and outer-circle), clergy, government and peasants. Everyone who isn’t, or doesn’t work for the aforementioned, works for the King. They lived in tiny mill houses and got their pay in envelopes with their mortgage and company store expenses already deducted and noted on the outside of the envelope.

In this particular town, the King Jr. was actually pretty benevolent and the community had beautiful and excellent schools and libraries and a terrific community center with an auditorium and tennis and a large pool. A similar, but much smaller, version also existed in the negro part of town. The King made sure he supported all of the churches, you don’t want anything negative coming from the pulpit now do you?

When I first moved to this otherwise really pretty little town, a couple of the mills (there were seven of them) still had eight-foot chain-linked fencing topped with barbed-wire surrounding them from a fight with union organizers 20 years before. There were guard towers at each corner where armed Nation Guardsmen were posted with orders to shoot anyone attempting to enter who wasn’t employed there. By and large, the textile mills in the South were never unionized and a lot of blood was spilled in the many efforts to do so. Finally, the government gave the textile industry to the Japanese and Chinese following WWII in an effort to rebuild their economies. Fuck the South. But that’s another story. I have many good stories from my time there and over the weeks and months I’ll share them with you.

This story centers around the attempt by the community to diversify industry in the town so that all the kids graduating from college would have something to come back to and end three generations of out-migration. I was employed to lead the chamber because of my success at economic development elsewhere. When I arrived on the scene there was a fight brewing.

The King, being old, rich, and with no kids really interested in running the mills, had recently sold the whole kit and caboodle to Mr. Big, a South Carolina mill baron who was, at the time, the largest company owned by a single individual in the nation and reputed to be Nixon’s biggest financial supporter. The tradesmen of the chamber of commerce had been working diligently to attract a new industry to the town and had finally landed one, a Delco battery plant.

When Mr. Big got wind of this, he called up his buddy who was president of General Motors (Michael Moore’s Mr. Smith) and got him to nix the plant and then sent an Atlanta attorney to town to talk the community out of it because he knew that the plant, being a General Motors subsidiary, would certainly be unionized, and that ain’t good. The attorney delivered this news to a gathering at the chamber of commerce and met objections by saying, “That’s the way it is, and if it comes to a fight you know who’ll win.” and he left the meeting. Needless to say, the citizens gathered therein were pissed.

We got together a committee and headed to Atlanta to see the governor, Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy invited all of us into his office and listened attentively as the story was relayed to him. Now don’t forget, Mr. Jimmy is from Plains, Georgia and knows a thing or two about mill towns. Georgia was pretty much covered up with them back then.

After considering for a moment, Jimmy asked his secretary to get the president of GM, Mr. Smith, on the phone. Jimmy engaged each of us, including myself, in conversation while we waited and when you were speaking with him, you had his undivided attention. I have rarely met such a gracious person, much less a high ranking public official. Soon the phone rang and Jimmy had Mr. Smith on the line. The conversation went something like this…

…”Mr. Smith, we're very pleased you decided to locate one of you plants in Georgia. I understand there’s been some outside intervention as regards the plant’s location. (pause) Well, I understand. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, however there are many other communities in the state that I am sure will suit you fine. (pause) Yes, that would be very much appreciated, thank you.”

Jimmy had confirmed the intervention and also managed to save the plant and its jobs for the state. It was located in Fitzgerald in the southern part of the state. Next he called into his office the head of economic development for the state. He told the man the story and asked him to make every effort to help our town find an industry to replace the one we had lost. (The result was the placement of 12 new industries and 4,000 new jobs). But what happened next is the kicker.

Mr. Jimmy asked his secretary to get Mr. Big on the phone, which she did. I honestly don’t remember the conversation because I was so shocked, but it ended something like this… “Don’t you ever let me hear of you pulling another stunt like that in my state. You hear me!?”

The last time I saw Mr. Jimmy to speak to him was at Warm Springs when he kicked-off his presidential campaign. He pledged to reform and cut the size of the federal government. He made the same pledge when he ran for governor.

When Jimmy Carter became governor of Georgia, the state constitution was the longest written document in the English language. The state was rife with nepotism and corruption. Jimmy waded in with a chain saw, starting at the top. He was relentless in cutting the budget and the bureaucracy and at the end of his 8-year term, he was about 75% towards completing his goal.

I remember thinking as I stood there on that cool drizzly day, Jimmy making his speech from the front porch of Roosevelt’s little white house, if it took 8 years in a state with a population of 4 million people to get 75% of the reform completed, how long will it take to reform the federal government? Hasn’t happened yet, has it.


  1. Great story. I understand mills being raised in Cabbagetown with both grandparents working at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill and growing up in the nearby mill housing.

    President Carter is indeed one of the most gracious, humble and smart gentlemen to ever grace our state and the Country. I worked on his gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. His wife is quite special in her own right.

  2. Thanks Peach. I feel the same about Jimmy and Rosiland. Great people. Glad to see you're doing so well on your site. You've been so busy lately I've sort of left you alone to sort it all out. But, I'm reading and loving it. Hope it transfers to book sales for you.

  3. Thanks Mr. Charleston for the kind words. I just keep plugging along everyday.

  4. Love this post C. He's one of the good doubt.

  5. This is a great post. He is a legend in GA.

  6. Thanks JJ. I guess like all bloggers, I sometimes get a little insecure wondering if anyone really cares to read my tales.

    JennyMac... Thank you. Always great to meet a new friend. Please keep in touch.

  7. Personally I, and I know that many will disagree, think that maybe with the singular exception of Teddy Roosevelt Jimmy Carter was far and away the most intelligent and intellectual president of the 20th century.

    I always wonder when I think on it, what his presidency would have become had not Ronald kiss my ass Reagan been doing back door illegal international diplomacy with the ayatollah Khomeini.

  8. I agree Walking Man. I have to say Obama is certainly brilliant. I know that never in my lifetime was I ever sharp enough to handle what he's doing.

    Jimmy's mistake was pissing off his own party. I once saw a political cartoon that perfectly described it. It was multi-panel cartoon and showed two groups of streets toughs meeting in an alley. One was comprised of big guys led by Ted Kennedy. The other a bunch of wimps led by Carter. However, when the brawl had ended the Carter clan had so badly beaten the Kennedy clan that you actually felt sorry for them. That's pretty much what happened so Jimmy never really had a chance. Of course, it didn't help for him to say that the reason he felt he was capable of being president in the first place was because he had met John Kennedy and realized, If he can do it, I sure as hell can.

  9. C---don't you also think his downfall was not playing the D.C. game by D.C. rules, or is that what your point is?...said from the perspective of Mr. Naive.

  10. Yes JJ. I think it was that as well. He brought in his own team and pretty well snubbed the Eastern establishment. But more than that, it was Ted's turn to be president and Jimmy screwed it up for him and I don't think he got over it. Like Obama taking out Hillary.


Sorry about the comment thingy folks. Too much spam.