The Bicentennial, the Candidate and the Carriage

Do you know where you were precisely 45 years ago?

OK, here’s a hint…it was the Fourth of July.

And it was 1976.

America’s Bicentennial.

Democratic candidate for president Jimmy Carter speaks at Westville, Ga. on the American Bicentennial.
©Ken Hawkins for TIME Magazine

I was on the presidential campaign trail with Jimmy Carter.

We were in South Georgia – Westville to be exact.

Westville is an 1850’s historic village and Governor Carter, Rosalynn and daughter Amy were there to meet the throngs of holiday visitors.

The former governor arrived modestly in a two car motorcade and was to take the stage with local dignitaries to give his stump speech.

However, the political logistics of the candidate’s arrival weren’t as simple as they seemed.

You see, Mr. Carter was a very modest man (and is to this day) – one who didn’t relish ceremony. The modesty was reinforced by Carter campaign adman, Jerry Rafshoon, who promoted the 1976 Democratic presidential candidate as an “everyman”, a blue collar farmer – turned politician on a mission to right the post-Watergate ship of state.

But the good folks of Westville had arranged for a somewhat royal appearing horse drawn carriage replete with two coachmen.

Carter took one long look at the carriage, frowned and whispered to an aide.

The aide whispered to the Westville hosts who responded with furrowed brow.

Several more campaign staffers joined the gaggle and negotiations were underway.

Then one top aide sheepishly walked to Carter sharing another whisper.

Apparently the campaign aides lost their case for moments later the president- to- be and his family mounted the carriage and rode to his address through the crowds.

But quickly the trademark Carter grin beamed from the carriage window in the face of a minor political defeat.

Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalyn, and daughter Amy ride in a 1850’s carriage in Westville, Georgia on the occasion of the United States bicentennial on July 4, 1976. ©Ken Hawkins for TIME Magazine

In the end seemed to work out well – from the carriage ride to the delivery of Carter’s bicentennial speech – to celebrate America’s 200th birthday.

As we all know, Carter was elected in 1976 and during his presidency I photographed him in a race car, a submarine, a helicopter, bicycles, Air Force One along with many more modes of transportation…but never did I witness him on another carriage ride.

Political imagery is important as Rafshoon and Carter knew, and as Michael Dukakis should have learned a dozen years later as he boarded a tank and donned a too-large army helmet.

This and over 100 additional images are included in my book “Jimmy Carter – Photographs 1970 – 2010” by Ken Hawkins with Foreword by Rex Granum, Carter White House Deputy Press Secretary. Buy the book online at www.CarterBook.com . All profits from the sale of the book are donated to The Carter Center’s Global Humanitarian Missions.  #carterbook #jimmycarterbook #cartercenter #cartercenter #jimmycarter