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In 1984, Hell’s Kitchen was still not a neighborhood that could be considered presidential. But in the September of that year, just three years after he had left The White House, former US president Jimmy Carter arrived on W40th Street, not for a state dinner or high-powered negotiations, but to sleep on the floor of a church.
He and his wife Rosalynn spent a week in total staying at Metro Baptist Church (now also home to Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries) during the launch of Habitat for Humanity, an organization dedicated to building low-cost housing for the poor. The Carters traveled on a bus for 27 hours with 40 friends from Georgia (along with a small group of Secret Service, who slept on the bottom bunk in the men’s dormitory) to help repair an 80-year-old, six-story brick building on E6th Street.
“It was 3:30 on Sunday afternoon when the bedraggled group arrived at the Metro Baptist Church in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a seedy neighborhood just south of Times Square,” reported The People at the time. “Dressed in shirt-sleeves, khaki pants and Topsiders, Carter hoisted his bags up four flights of stairs to a sparsely furnished dormitory in the men’s quarters, where he and four others spread out over three double bunks.
“He and Rosalynn had been offered a private room, but they turned it over to
a newly married couple. ‘This looks just fine’ the former President of the United
States said with a grin as he swung his suitcase onto an upper bunk.”
They came back for a second summer at the Church in July 1985. “This is about the best way I can spend my vacation,” Carter told the New York Times.
True to that original vision, Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, which has its home at Metro Baptist Church, continues its work with the most vulnerable in New York City: after-school groups, teen centers, the Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, life empowerment classes and more. @rmmnyc
President Carter and his wife will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary on Wednesday (July 7). The Carters are the longest-married presidential couple in American history. Since leaving the Oval Office in 1981, he’s often said that his most important decision in life was falling for Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in 1945 and marrying her the following summer. “My biggest secret is to marry the right person if you want to have a long-lasting marriage,” the 39th President said. A neighborhood that’s obviously close to his heart sends best wishes to the happy couple!
This story originally appeared in Issue 20 of W42ST Magazine in September 2016.