RALEIGH, N.C. — Lillian Carter had an indomitable spirit. She was outspoken – almost to an extreme, her son says – and she used her talents and abilities to change things she thought were wrong.
"She never did fear criticism or condemnation or even, sometimes, ostracism," former President Jimmy Carter said of his mother in an exclusive WRAL interview promoting his new book, "A Remarkable Mother." (He will sign copies of the book Friday at noon at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 12873 U.S. 70 Business Highway West in Clayton.)
The 39th president ascribes to her the inspiration for his own life's work of commitment and faith, saying she epitomized what a "superb American citizen ought to be."
"Mother devoted her life to serving people who were downtrodden and scorned and often felt the stigma of gross discrimination," Carter remembered.
She tried to "put into practical application the essence of her Christian faith" – peace, justice, humility, service, forgiveness, compassion and love, Carter said.
Carter, now 83, said it's those values that he has tried to embody as a humanitarian and peace activist, whether he's working with his foundation, the Carter Center, to eradicate "neglected diseases" in third-world countries or is on his personal mission to help bring peace to Israel and Palestine.
A meeting last month in the Middle East with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal drew criticism and condemnation from both Israel and the United States – which considers the Palestinian political party a terrorist organization.
"I don't strive to be provocative," Carter said. "I do what I think is right. In my subconscious, I do what I think my mama would approve of."
Lillian Carter also spoke out against racial segregation in one of the most conservative areas of south Georgia, Carter said, 30 years before the Civil Rights movement and leaders such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. became famous for their work to end desegregation.
And she'd be delighted today by the Democratic race for the White House, Carter said.
"I think she would be excited, titillated. I think, if asked, if whether either one of them should withdraw from the race, she would say: 'Why? As long as they have a remote chance, stay in,'" Carter said.
"She would not be afraid of seeing this tough contest between two attractive and very competent campaigners," the former president said.
Carter was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina. That was in 1976. Bill Clinton came close to carrying the state, but the inability to do so is something that continues to frustrate and puzzle some party leaders.
"It's a race issue. There's no doubt," Carter said. "Ever since Lyndon Johnson became a hero in the Democratic party for ending racial discrimination, Republicans have been very shrewd in capitalizing on the race issue by different means."
He added, however, that he thinks race is becoming a less important factor than it had been.
"I think there is kind of a reverse tide that was demonstrated by the fact that Georgia, in the primary campaign for the Democratic Party, went overwhelmingly for Obama," he said.