Former First Lady’s presentation at 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly results in expanded Chautauqua program in Plains, Georgia May 2-4, 2014
Former President Jimmy Carter will be the featured keynote speaker at the first Plains Chautauqua weekend event themed “A Journey to Plains,” May 2-4, 2014. Planning by the Plains Historic Preservation Trust for the weekend Chautauqua, which since 2008 had been a multi-evening event, is inspired by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s visit to DeFuniak Springs as featured keynote speaker at the 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs. President Carter will speak at the lectern which Florida Chautauqua President Christopher Mitchell presented to Mrs. Carter in DeFuniak Springs during her historic visit to Walton County, and Florida Chautauqua Center board member and historian Robert Daniel will present historic documents and information to the Plains delegation to assist in their research development.
Mitchell is a past aide to former President and Mrs. Carter at The Carter Center in Atlanta and traveled with the Carters to developing countries throughout central Africa as the Carters worked to eradicate disease, to help poor farmers grow their food more efficiently, and to stop civil wars. Since leaving The Carter Center and moving to Florida, Mitchell has remained in contact with the Carters, particularly on his work with leading the Florida Chautauqua Assembly since 2008 in DeFuniak Springs.
In September 2011, Mitchell attended the Plains Peanut Festival where Mrs. Carter was signing books she authored on mental health and care giving, and he encouraged her to consider starting a Chautauqua in Plains to discuss in depth these and other issues of concern to her. The suggestion lead to a one-hour call to Mitchell by representatives of the Plains Historic Preservation Trust comprised of community leaders interested in preserving and promoting the history of Plains, Georgia.
“After that conversation,” says Mitchell, “I was concerned that the Trust didn’t fully understand the significance of hosting a Chautauqua so I wrote to Mrs. Carter inviting Trust members and representatives from the National Park Service’s Jimmy Carter National Historic Site to accept free scholarships to our 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly. I wanted the Plains team to see how our organization orchestrates our 4-day educational program for families and the impact an event like this could have on the small historic community of Plains, Georgia.” Mitchell says he additionally offered to provide accommodations and meals for the Plains delegation if Mrs. Carter would accept his invitation to be the featured keynote speaker at the 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly themed A Journey into the American Chautauqua Movement. “This was a tough theme to market,” says Mitchell, “but I knew if Mrs. Carter would accept my invitation, then I could finally unite our community for a lesson on what Chautauqua is all about and how this event is so important that a former First Lady would want to see one develop and expand in her own beloved hometown. What I didn’t know at the time of that invitation is that Plains, Georgia once had a traveling Chautauqua visit the community in the early 1900s and that Julia Coleman, the principal at Plains High where the Carters attended school, was an organizer of the Chautauqua events held in the community. I also didn’t know that Annette Wise in Plains had already started to revive that Chautauqua with the Plains Historical Preservation Trust through mini-Chautauqua programs beginning in 2008 and that Mrs. Carter was on that board. So, the groundwork for expanding the revived Plains Chautauqua to a weekend event was already at play when I reached out to Mrs. Carter. The timing couldn’t have been better for both the Florida Chautauqua and Plains Chautauqua assemblies.”
Mitchell says the former First Lady called him and accepted his invitation to speak and to announce plans to expand the Plains Chautauqua. “I was ecstatic,” says Mitchell. “Not only did I see an opportunity to unite our own community behind our own history, but it was an opportunity to unite all 14 Chautauqua communities throughout North America for another major event that could impact America in the next few decades. This is the first time in American history that we know of that a former First Lady or presidential family joined in an effort to revive a Chautauqua. How exciting to all of the leaders of Chautauquas throughout North America!”
Mitchell immediately invited all fourteen Chautauqua delegations of a membership organization called The Chautauqua Trail to stand in solidarity behind the former First Lady in DeFuniak Springs on Friday, January 25, 2013 on the stage of Walton High School as she announced plans to expand the revived Plains Chautauqua to become the 15th member of The Chautauqua Trail. “With the exception of just a few, the delegations came for the presentation and filled the stage behind her. It was an amazing and inspiring day for all of us. I was so proud, too, that leaders of the New York Chautauqua were with us representing the mother organization which created the Florida Chautauqua Assembly and the campus which locals here know as a significant part of our Historic District.”
Following Mrs. Carter’s 2013 Florida Chautauqua presentation, Mitchell gave her a lectern he commissioned by construction technology students of the Walton Career Development Center in DeFuniak Springs which is a replica of the one she and President Carter used in Plains, Georgia the night they won their bid for the White House. Six weeks after Mrs. Carter’s presentation, the students delivered the lectern to Plains which the Carters and the National Park Service used for the rededication of the Plains Depot. At the rededication ceremony, Annette Wise, leaders of the Trust and the Plains Chautauqua remarked how the Carters and Plains Historical Preservation Trust will be using the lectern for the Plains Chautauqua in May and how grateful they are for the gift from the Florida Chautauqua president and delegation.
Mitchell has called a special meeting between the Florida Chautauqua Center delegation and the Plains delegation on May 1, the day before the Plains Chautauqua begins, to discuss and share several hundred pages of information about the original Chautauquas in nearby Americus, Georgia during the early 1900s. Robert Daniel, Florida Chautauqua Center historian, spent countless hours tracking down the information and communicating with scholars from University of Iowa Libraries about the Redpath Chautauqua Collection, which is pertinent to the original Plains Chautauqua, and has received copies to present to the Plains Historic Preservation Trust at the May 1 meeting.
“We are grateful to the members of the board of the Florida Chautauqua Center in DeFuniak Springs for their support of our expanding our Chautauqua program to our first weekend event,” says Annette Wise of the Plains Historical Preservation Trust. “The opportunity to attend the Florida Chautauqua was a great experience for our delegation to see and discuss programming with leaders of the Florida Chautauqua as well as the Chautauqua Trail.”
The Plains Chautauqua is scheduled for May 2-4, 2014 in Plains, Georgia. Full weekend passports are already sold out. However, there are some individual session tickets available as well as some tickets for the Saturday keynote speech and book signing by President Carter. Individual tickets are available and must be purchased in advance. There are a number of free events on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. including a small antique car show, Plein Air Paint Show, Old Farm Days at the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm and a May Day Celebration at St. Mark Church. For registration information, visit www.PlainsChautauqua.com or call 229-824-4567 or email Annette Wise at email@example.com.
Feature Photo: Former President Jimmy Carter speaks at Plains Depot Rededication Ceremony at lectern donated by President Christopher Mitchell to former First Lady Rosalynn Carter during 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. Photo by Mike Hill