What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How a boy from segregated South grew up to be Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff

Read the Full Transcript

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    They were known collectively as the “Georgia mafia” — Washington outsiders who played key roles in the Jimmy Carter presidential campaigns, and in the White House. Among them, Hamilton Jordan, who was the president`s chief of staff and top confidant. He died of cancer in 2008. He left behind a mostly finished memoir.

  • His daughter Kathleen has edited and completed the book, “A Boy from Georgia:

    Coming of Age in the Segregated South.” She talked to Judy recently.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So let me — I have to ask you first, it looks like Hamilton Jordan, Kathleen Jordan, but it`s “Jerden;” where did that come from?

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN, Editor, “A Boy From Georgia”:

    You know, my dad always said it`s the Southern pronunciation of the surname. If you hear it in old spirituals, you`ll hear it pronounced the “River Jerden.” So I think it`s a long-standing tradition of the South. At least that`s what we were told and we`ve taken that forward with us.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I knew your father, Hamilton Jordan, because he worked for Jimmy Carter. I covered Carter as governor of Georgia, then as president of the United States. Your father was a strategist, he was chief of staff, but this book really is about his growing up in South Georgia, growing up in the segregationist South, isn`t it?

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    When political junkies hear that my dad has a new book out, they`re excited because they think it may be about the Carter years, and what I say to those people is that it may not necessarily be about his political years, but it`s about his early indoctrination into politics, and kind of learning about politics from the people around him and about the formation of his political skills.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He grew up, as we just said, in the segregationist South, from a family steeped in the Confederacy, had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. That really was what he really was surrounded by as he was growing up, and yet he was raising questions.

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    There are some moments in the book where he really realizes that he has to make a decision. Obviously segregation was something that was passed down from generation to generation, and I think this book is about him realizing that this choice is sitting in my lap. You know, I have the choice to decide whether or not I am going to question this, or if I`m going to just go along with what everyone else believes — and I think it`s about his journey to deciding to follow the moral truth.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And there were a couple of points where he thought he was a moral failure. Where he didn`t speak up when he saw something happening.

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    Absolutely. He was in downtown Albany, where he was born, which is a very small town, watching Dr. King march, protesting the segregation of the public facilities in Albany, Georgia, and he sees his maid there, Hattie, he`s standing with his dad, and, you know, they see Hattie in this protest and his dad pulls him away and says, “We need to leave right now. Those people are outside agitators and they`ve gotten all riled up and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

    And my dad, you know, said, “Well, what about Hattie?” It was this person he had a real personal connection with, and she was protesting. And he`d seen this other part of her life.

    He says in the book like you said, he marks that as a moment of moral failure in his life, that he didn`t stand up for what he realized was right in that moment.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There are also a lot of funny moments in the book. When he was nine years old, he went with his family to Washington, went to the Smithsonian, found his — his family were the McWhorters, and he found a McWhorter who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor for fighting in the civil war. When he got back to Georgia he told his grandfather all about it, but then he said, by the way, he fought for the Union. He said his grandfather got up and walked out.

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    Exactly. There`s a lot of humor in that but there`s also an undercurrent there because his grandfather was so proud of being from the South and was so proud of the Confederacy, and couldn`t get behind the idea that his family was fighting against the Confederacy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why do you think your father was writing this book? I mean, you watched much of the time when he was working on it.

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    Definitely.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Before he died.

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    Exactly. He had been working on this book for, I would say, all of his life. It took his whole life to kind of formulate the ideas that he expresses in this book.

    And I think that he was working on it partially because it`s a large part of — it`s about who he is and how he became the person that he is, and I think it`s also an admission of guilt, and a story of how he turned himself around. He was working on it in order to, not necessarily to absolve himself, but to take agency and ownership of a time in his life when he believed things that he no longer believed as a fully formed adult.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You said your older brother started out working on this, but you wanted to finish it. Why was it important to you?

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    It was important to me because I have struggled, for most of my life, with the idea of being from the South and the idea of Southern identity. When I was younger, I would tell my church basketball team that I was from New York, because I didn`t want to be associated with a place in the country that I thought was a place that was steeped in racism and violent evangelical ideals and things, that in my mind felt very negative.

    And it took me stepping away and going to college in a different state and then living in New York and Los Angeles, to understand that the South is such an important part of who I am, and now, it is something that I am very proud of. And to not be proud of it is to not take ownership of it.

    There are things that are bad about the South, but there are things that are bad about every place in the country. So, for me it was — I did this to honor my dad and his memory because these stories needed to get into people’s hands, and also I wanted to have a greater sense of ownership of who I am as a Southern woman.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it`s a wonderful book, and a wonderful set of stories, put together by the daughter of a man who was very involved in American politics doing a lot of reflecting.

    Kathleen Jordan, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • KATHLEEN JORDAN:

    Judy, thank you.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News