George Washington Carver

By: Anthony Elias Dae'jon Wilson

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George Washington Carver (c. 1860[2][3] – 5 January 1943), was an American botanist and inventor. The exact day and year of his birth are unknown; he was born into slavery in Missouri, either in 1861, or January 1864.[3]

Carver's reputation is based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts,soybeans, and sweet potatoes, which also aided nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their quality of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts.[4] He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including cosmetics, dyes,paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP.

He was recognized for his many achievements and talents. In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a "BlackLeonardo".[5]

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Carver was born into slavery in Diamond Grove, Newton County, near Crystal Place, now known as Diamond, Missouri, possibly in 1864 or 1865, though the exact date is not known.[6][7] His master, Moses Carver, was a German American immigrant who had purchased George's parents, Mary and Giles, from William P. McGinnis on October 9, 1855, for $700. Carver had 10 sisters and a brother, all of whom died prematurely.[citation needed]

When George was only a week old, he, a sister, and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders from Arkansas.[8] George's brother, James, was rushed to safety from the kidnappers.[8] The kidnappers sold the slaves in Kentucky. Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find them, but he located only the infant George. Moses negotiated with the raiders to gain the boy's return,[8] and rewarded Bentley.

After slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own children.[8] They encouraged George to continue his intellectual pursuits, and "Aunt Susan" taught him the basics of reading and writing.

Black people were not allowed at the public school in Diamond Grove. Learning there was a school for black children 10 miles (16 km) south in Neosho, George decided to go there. When he reached the town, he found the school closed for the night. He slept in a nearby barn. By his own account, the next morning he met a kind woman, Mariah Watkins, from whom he wished to rent a room. When he identified himself as "Carver's George," as he had done his whole life, she replied that from now on his name was "George Carver". George liked Mariah Watkins, and her words, "You must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people", made a great impression on him.[citation needed]

At the age of thirteen, due to his desire to attend the academy there, he relocated to the home of another foster family in Fort Scott, Kansas. After witnessing a black man killed by a group of whites, Carver left the city. He attended a series of schools before earning his diploma at Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.

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arver applied to several colleges before being accepted at Highland College in Highland, Kansas. When he arrived, however, they rejected him because of his race. In August 1886, Carver traveled by wagon with J. F. Beeler from Highland to Eden Township in Ness County, Kansas.[9] He homesteaded a claim[10] near Beeler, where he maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers and a geological collection. He manually plowed 17 acres (69,000 m2) of the claim, planting rice, corn, Indian corn and garden produce, as well as various fruit trees, forest trees, and shrubbery. He also earned money by odd jobs in town and worked as a ranch hand.[9]

In early 1888, Carver obtained a $300 loan at the Bank of Ness City for education. By June he left the area.[9] In 1890, Carver started studying art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.[11] His art teacher, Etta Budd, recognized Carver's talent for painting flowers and plants; she encouraged him to study botany at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames.[11] When he began there in 1891, he was the first black student. Carver's Bachelor's thesis was "Plants as Modified by Man", dated 1894.[12]

Iowa State professors Joseph Budd and Louis Pammel convinced Carver to continue there for his master's degree. Carver did research at the Iowa Experiment Station under Pammel during the next two years. His work at the experiment station in plantpathology and mycology first gained him national recognition and respect as a botanist. Carver taught as the first black faculty member at Iowa State.

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In 1896, Booker T. Washington, the first principal and president of the Tuskegee Institute, invited Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver taught there for 47 years, developing the department into a strong research center and working with two additional college presidents during his tenure. He taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency.

Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a "Jesup wagon" after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program.[13]

To recruit Carver to Tuskegee, Washington gave him an above average salary and two rooms for his personal use, although both concessions were resented by some other faculty. Because he had earned a master's in a scientific field from a "white" institution, some faculty perceived him as arrogant when a young man.[14] Unmarried faculty members normally had to share rooms, with two to a room, in the spartan early days of the institute.

One of Carver's duties was to administer the Agricultural Experiment Station farms. He had to manage the production and sale of farm products to generate revenue for the Institute. He soon proved to be a poor administrator. In 1900, Carver complained that the physical work and the letter-writing required were too much.[15] In 1904, an Institute committee reported that Carver's reports on yields from the poultry yard were exaggerated, and Washington confronted Carver about the issue. Carver replied in writing, "Now to be branded as a liar and party to such hellish deception it is more than I can bear, and if your committee feel that I have willfully lied or [was] party to such lies as were told my resignation is at your disposal."[16] During Washington's last five years at Tuskegee, Carver submitted or threatened his resignation several times: when the administration reorganized the agriculture programs,[17] when he disliked a teaching assignment,[18] to manage an experiment station elsewhere,[19] and when he did not get summer teaching assignments in 1913-1914.[20][21] In each case, Washington smoothed things over.

Carver circa 1910

Carver started his academic career as a researcher and teacher. In 1911, Washington wrote a letter to him complaining that Carver had not followed orders to plant particular crops at the experiment station. This revealed Washington's micro-management of Carver's department, which he had headed for more than 10 years by then. Washington at the same time refused Carver's requests for a new laboratory, research supplies for his exclusive use, and respite from teaching classes. Washington praised Carver's abilities in teaching and original research but said about his administrative skills:

"When it comes to the organization of classes, the ability required to secure a properly organized and large school or section of a school, you are wanting in ability. When it comes to the matter of practical farm managing which will secure definite, practical, financial results, you are wanting again in ability."

In 1911, Carver complained that his laboratory had not received the equipment which Washington had promised 11 months before. He also complained about Institute committee meetings.[22] Washington praised Carver in his 1911 memoir, My Larger Education: Being Chapters from My Experience.[23] Washington called Carver "one of the most thoroughly scientific men of the Negro race with whom I am acquainted." [24] After Washington died in 1915, his successor made fewer demands on Carver for administrative tasks.

While a professor at Tuskegee, Carver joined the Gamma Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. He spoke at the 1930 Conclave that was held at Tuskegee, Alabama, in which he delivered a powerful and emotional speech to the men in attendance.[25]

From 1915 to 1923, Carver concentrated on researching and experimenting with new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, pecans, and other crops, as well as having his assistants research and compile existing uses.[26] This work, and especially his speaking to a national conference of the Peanut Growers Association in 1920 and in testimony before Congress in 1921 to support passage of a tariff on imported peanuts, brought him wide publicity and increasing renown. In these years, he became one of the most well-known African Americans of his time.

Rise to fame

"One of America's great scientists." U.S. World War II poster circa 1943

Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. Together with other agricultural experts, he urged farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils by practicing systematic crop rotation: alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes or legumes (such as peanuts, soybeans andcowpeas). These crops both restored nitrogen to the soil and were good for human consumption. Following the crop rotation practice resulted in improved cotton yields and gave farmers alternative cash crops. To train farmers to successfully rotate and cultivate the new crops, Carver developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama that was similar to the one at Iowa State. To encourage better nutrition in the South, he widely distributed recipes using the alternative crops.

In addition, he founded an industrial research laboratory, where he and assistants worked to popularize the new crops by developing hundreds of applications for them. They did original research as well as promoting applications and recipes which they collected from others. Carver distributed his information as agricultural bulletins. (See Carver bulletins below.)

...

In 1896, Booker T. Washington, the first principal and president of the Tuskegee Institute, invited Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver taught there for 47 years, developing the department into a strong research center and working with two additional college presidents during his tenure. He taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency.

Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a "Jesup wagon" after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program.[13]

To recruit Carver to Tuskegee, Washington gave him an above average salary and two rooms for his personal use, although both concessions were resented by some other faculty. Because he had earned a master's in a scientific field from a "white" institution, some faculty perceived him as arrogant when a young man.[14] Unmarried faculty members normally had to share rooms, with two to a room, in the spartan early days of the institute.

One of Carver's duties was to administer the Agricultural Experiment Station farms. He had to manage the production and sale of farm products to generate revenue for the Institute. He soon proved to be a poor administrator. In 1900, Carver complained that the physical work and the letter-writing required were too much.[15] In 1904, an Institute committee reported that Carver's reports on yields from the poultry yard were exaggerated, and Washington confronted Carver about the issue. Carver replied in writing, "Now to be branded as a liar and party to such hellish deception it is more than I can bear, and if your committee feel that I have willfully lied or [was] party to such lies as were told my resignation is at your disposal."[16] During Washington's last five years at Tuskegee, Carver submitted or threatened his resignation several times: when the administration reorganized the agriculture programs,[17] when he disliked a teaching assignment,[18] to manage an experiment station elsewhere,[19] and when he did not get summer teaching assignments in 1913-1914.[20][21] In each case, Washington smoothed things over.

Carver circa 1910

Carver started his academic career as a researcher and teacher. In 1911, Washington wrote a letter to him complaining that Carver had not followed orders to plant particular crops at the experiment station. This revealed Washington's micro-management of Carver's department, which he had headed for more than 10 years by then. Washington at the same time refused Carver's requests for a new laboratory, research supplies for his exclusive use, and respite from teaching classes. Washington praised Carver's abilities in teaching and original research but said about his administrative skills:

"When it comes to the organization of classes, the ability required to secure a properly organized and large school or section of a school, you are wanting in ability. When it comes to the matter of practical farm managing which will secure definite, practical, financial results, you are wanting again in ability."

In 1911, Carver complained that his laboratory had not received the equipment which Washington had promised 11 months before. He also complained about Institute committee meetings.[22] Washington praised Carver in his 1911 memoir, My Larger Education: Being Chapters from My Experience.[23] Washington called Carver "one of the most thoroughly scientific men of the Negro race with whom I am acquainted." [24] After Washington died in 1915, his successor made fewer demands on Carver for administrative tasks.

While a professor at Tuskegee, Carver joined the Gamma Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. He spoke at the 1930 Conclave that was held at Tuskegee, Alabama, in which he delivered a powerful and emotional speech to the men in attendance.[25]

From 1915 to 1923, Carver concentrated on researching and experimenting with new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, pecans, and other crops, as well as having his assistants research and compile existing uses.[26] This work, and especially his speaking to a national conference of the Peanut Growers Association in 1920 and in testimony before Congress in 1921 to support passage of a tariff on imported peanuts, brought him wide publicity and increasing renown. In these years, he became one of the most well-known African Americans of his time.

Rise to fame

"One of America's great scientists." U.S. World War II poster circa 1943

Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. Together with other agricultural experts, he urged farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils by practicing systematic crop rotation: alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes or legumes (such as peanuts, soybeans andcowpeas). These crops both restored nitrogen to the soil and were good for human consumption. Following the crop rotation practice resulted in improved cotton yields and gave farmers alternative cash crops. To train farmers to successfully rotate and cultivate the new crops, Carver developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama that was similar to the one at Iowa State. To encourage better nutrition in the South, he widely distributed recipes using the alternative crops.

In addition, he founded an industrial research laboratory, where he and assistants worked to popularize the new crops by developing hundreds of applications for them. They did original research as well as promoting applications and recipes which they collected from others. Carver distributed his information as agricultural bulletins. (See Carver bulletins below.)

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Death & Legacy


Painting by Betsy Graves Reyneau

Upon returning home one day, Carver took a bad fall down a flight of stairs; he was found unconscious by a maid who took him to a hospital. Carver died January 5, 1943, at the age of 78 from complications (anemia) resulting from this fall. He was buried next to Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee University. Due to his frugality, Carver's life savings totaled $60,000, all of which he donated in his last years and at his death to the Carver Museum and to the George Washington Carver Foundation.[36]


On his grave was written, He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.


Christianity

George Washington Carver believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life. He testified on many occasions that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science.[37] George Washington Carver became a Christian when he was still a young boy, as he wrote in connection to his conversion in 1931:[38]


"I was just a mere boy when converted, hardly ten years old. There isn't much of a story to it. God just came into my heart one afternoon while I was alone in the 'loft' of our big barn while I was shelling corn to carry to the mill to be ground into meal.

A dear little white boy, one of our neighbors, about my age came by one Saturday morning, and in talking and playing he told me he was going to Sunday school tomorrow morning. I was eager to know what a Sunday school was. He said they sang hymns and prayed. I asked him what prayer was and what they said. I do not remember what he said; only remember that as soon as he left I climbed up into the 'loft,' knelt down by the barrel of corn and prayed as best I could. I do not remember what I said. I only recall that I felt so good that I prayed several times before I quit.

My brother and myself were the only colored children in that neighborhood and of course, we could not go to church or Sunday school, or school of any kind.

That was my simple conversion, and I have tried to keep the faith."


— G. W. Carver; Letter to Isabelle Coleman; July 24, 1931

He was not expected to live past his twenty-first birthday due to failing health. He lived well past the age of twenty-one, and his belief deepened as a result.[24] Throughout his career, he always found friendship with other Christians. He relied on them especially when criticized by the scientific community and media regarding his research methodology.[39]


Carver viewed faith in Jesus Christ as a means of destroying both barriers of racial disharmony and social stratification.[40] He was as concerned with his students' character development as he was with their intellectual development. He compiled a list of eight cardinal virtues for his students to strive toward:



A monument to Carver at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis

Be clean both inside and out.

Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor.

Lose, if need be, without squealing.

Win without bragging.

Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.

Be too brave to lie.

Be too generous to cheat.

Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.[41]

Beginning in 1906 at Tuskegee, Carver led a Bible class on Sundays for several students at their request. He regularly portrayed stories by acting them out.[41] He responded to critics with this: "When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."[42]


Honors

1923, Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, awarded annually for outstanding achievement.[26]

1928, honorary doctorate from Simpson College

1939, the Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture

1940, Carver established the George Washington Carver Foundation at the Tuskegee Institute.

1941, The George Washington Carver Museum was dedicated at the Tuskegee Institute.

1942, Ford built a replica of Carver's birth cabin at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn as a tribute.

1942, Ford dedicated a laboratory in Dearborn named after Carver.

1943, Liberty ship SS George Washington Carver launched.

1951-1954, U.S. Mint features Carver on a 50 cents silver commemorative coin.

1965, Ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) launched.

1969, Iowa State University constructs Carver Hall in honor of Carver– a graduate of the university.[43]

1943?, the US Congress designated January 5, the anniversary of his death, as George Washington Carver Recognition Day.[44][45][citation needed]

2007, the Missouri Botanical Gardens has a garden area named in his honor, with a commemorative statue and material about his work

Willowbrook Neighborhood Park in Willowbrook, California was renamed George Washington Carver Park in his honor.[46]

Schools named for Carver include the George Washington Carver Elementary School of the Compton Unified School District in Los Angeles County, California[47] and the George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science of the Sacramento City Unified School District in Sacramento, California.[48]

Legacy

A movement to establish a U.S. national monument to Carver began before his death. Because of World War II, such non-war expenditures had been banned by presidential order. Missouri senator Harry S. Truman sponsored a bill in favor of a monument. In a committee hearing on the bill, one supporter said:


"The bill is not simply a momentary pause on the part of busy men enga