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Interview: President Jimmy Carter on Why Women's Rights are Civil Rights

Timothy A. Hazel, U.S. Navy

President Jimmy Carter is one of four U.S. presidents attending the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin this week.

President Carter, who served from 1977 to 1981, grew up in Southern Georgia during some of the worst days of Jim Crow. The 39th president of the U.S. is also promoting a new book, "Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power," in which he discusses what he calls discrimination and violence against women and girls worldwide – what he calls "the most serious and unmet worldwide challenge" of our time.

He recently spoke to KUT's Jennifer Stayton about how the unequal treatment of women today –pay, discrimination, violence and a lack of equal opportunity – parallel issues minorities faced prior to the U.S. civil rights movement.

"Well there are exact parallels," Carter says. "I grew up in a segregated community near Plains, Georgia. We were the only white family. There were 55 black families around us. And I saw then, as a young boy growing up, the ravages of racial discrimination. And we thought this was the proper thing to do. Even in the eyes of God. We would have distinguished religious leaders come to our local church … and they would quote the Bible to say that it was proper for whites to be superior to blacks, that that was what God intended."

The struggle for civil rights continues to this day, President Carter said.

"We still have a lot of discrimination against people who are weak or African- American, Hispanic, mentally retarded. We still have a lot of discrimination in this country. But the official designation of blacks as inferior – where separate but equal could be the law of the land – was certainly done away with by the heroism and political capabilities of Lyndon Johnson, whom I admired as one of the great presidents in my lifetime."

President Carter listed other issues he considers urgent: the sheer number of prisoners in the U.S., the death penalty, and its the unequal use as punishment. "Hardly ever do you see a rich white person executed. But you see an awful lot of African Americans … obviously Hispanics and mentally retarded people and very poor people executed."

"It's up to us to teach young people what has changed and what remains as a challenge. Each generation has a responsibility to look at its own problems and try to resolve them with courage, with innovation and with activity."  

Carter included women's issues in that call. He believes we still have a long way to go – in the U.S. and abroad – to address injustice toward and unequal treatment of women.

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.
Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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