January 5, 2019
Moses Carver jumped into action when he realized Southern raiders had stolen his young female slave, Mary, her daughter, and newborn son, George. Moses and his wife, Susan, were able to grab another son, James, and protect him from the thieves. Not a fan of slavery, Moses considered Mary and her children family. Therefore, the chase was on to get them back.
Moses immediately hired his neighbor, John Bentley, to go after the raiders and find Mary and the children. Bentley discovered the family was taken to Kentucky and sold. Unfortunately, he was only able to locate George, which he traded one of Moses’ best horses to get back. With Mary gone, and her husband having been killed in an accident before George’s birth, Moses and Susan took George and James in. When slavery ended the next year, the Carver’s starting raising the boys as their own.
Susan instructed the boys in reading and writing since Diamond, Missouri, continued to discriminate against Negros. (see ) However James felt more comfortable in the fields with Moses. George was a sickly child and continued to learn important domestic trades from Susan, such as cooking, mending, embroidery, doing laundry, and gardening. She also instructed him in preparing simple herbal medicines. Before long, the young man developed a passion for plants and improving gardening technics.
As was common at the time, George was not positive of his birthday, yet he knew it was before Missouri abolished slavery on January 11, 1865. It it believed to be in January or June of 1864. Around age 11, George desired further education. Since his hometown did not have a school for Negros, he left home, traveling 10 miles south to Neosho where there was a school for black children. The morning after his arrival, he met a sweet African-American woman named Mariah Watkins, and introduced himself as “Carver’s George”. Mariah told him from now on, his name would be “George Carver.” Carver had no money to rent a room from Mariah and her husband Andrew, so he exchanged domestic help for room and board.
Mariah, who had no children of her own, tutored him in two very important subjects: medicinal herbs and her strong faith in Christ. According to his own words, Carver found God when a neighbor boy back in Diamond told him about Sunday School and prayer while they were in a barn. "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." Mariah's instruction increased Carver's knowledge and love for Christ.
Despite the significant instruction he received from Mariah, Carver was gravely disappointed with his education at the Neosho school. After about two years there, he moved to Kansas to continue his studies. For the next decade he moved around the state, living with foster families while attending schools. Carver eventually received a diploma from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.
Upon arriving at Highland University in Highland, Kansas, in 1880, where he was accepted at just 16 years of age, the all-white college turned him away once they discovered his race. Disappointed but undeterred, Carver moved to Ness County, Kansas, where he claimed a homestead. In addition to farming 17 acres with rice, Indian corn, and other such garden vegetation, Carver maintained a green house where he cultivated plants and flowers. Furthermore, he planted forest trees, fruit trees, and bushes. To earn extra cash, he worked odd jobs around town and as a ranch hand on local farms.
Carver left the area in mid-1888, finding himself in Winterset, Iowa, where the Milhollands, a local white couple, encouraged him to pursue a higher education again. Hoping to obtain a teaching degree, Carver began studying art and piano at Simpson College, in Indianola, Iowa. A talented artist, Carver tended to sketch and paint plants and nature. His professor, Etta Budd, soon learned of his love of botany and persuaded Carver to transfer to Iowa State Agriculture School (now Iowa State University) to pursue his true passion.
Now about 27 years old, Carver entered Iowa State in 1891 as the first black student to attend the school. After earning his Bachelor of Science, two of his professors convinced him to stay at the school and work on his master’s degree. For the next two years, he conducted his research at the Iowa Experiment Station. By the time he received his Master of Agriculture degree in 1896, Carver was a nationally known and respected botanist.
Tuskegee Institute principal and president, Booker T. Washington, wasted no time offering Carver the position as head of the Agricultural Department. (see ) Carver agreed with Washington’s principles of hard work and self-sufficiency. However, in true capitalist form, Carver waited for Washington to make an offer he couldn’t refuse, which Washington did. Carver received a greater salary than most. In addition, while the other unmarried teachers were required to share rooms, Carver requested two private dormitory rooms, with one specifically used for his plant specimens. The School Board granted the exceptions and the faculty resented Carver for it. Some in the all black faculty even considered him pompous because he received his master’s degree from a “white” school.
Carver greatly admired Washington, as is evident from adding Washington’s name to his: George Washington Carver. Regardless, it was not uncommon for the two to butt heads. Washington micro-managed while Carver’s administrative abilities were severely lacking. However, Carver’s advancements in research and his teaching ability, though he greatly disliked his classroom duties, tended to overshadow his shortcomings.
In the South at the time, cotton dominated the farming industry. After years of cultivating the single crop, Carver noticed the soil had been exhausted of important nutrients and nitrogen. As a result, crop yields suffered. Carver understood vegetation such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans could replenish the much needed elements and promoted planting these crops. Since they were consumables, poorer farmers began to stabilize, including former slaves working hard to became their own masters. They could now produce their own food as well as items to sell and improve their quality of life.
After a few years, the soil became replenished enough to yield high cotton crops again. To avoid returning to a state of depletion, Carver perfected and promoted the concept of crop rotation. Since most farmers were unable to attend classes at Tuskegee, Carver took the classes to them. Named after Tuskegee donor Morris Ketchum Jesup, Carver’s mobile “Jesup wagon” classroom and laboratory educated farmers on soil chemistry right on their own land.
Carver’s crop rotation increased cotton production, which thrilled the farmers. Plus, they now also yielded other cash crops, such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans, in abundance. But what could they do with all they were producing? Carver began publishing recipes for the edible crops in agricultural bulletins. Then, he went back to the laboratory to develop alternative uses for these items. He created hundreds of products, both edible and non-edible, such as vinegars, flours, molasses, starches, stains, paints, dyes, inks, plastics, synthetic marble, paving blocks, and gasoline. Yet, it was his work with peanuts that forever cemented him within the pages of history.
Carver developed over 100 unique items for which peanuts could be used. However, several of his products remained within the laboratory, never seeing an extensive use. Among his peanut inventions were milk, cooking and salad oils, flour, Worcestershire sauce, soaps, cosmetics, insulating boards, paper, dyes, and stains. Falling back on his herbal medicinal education from his foster mothers, Carver also worked on several peanut-based medicines. Contrary to popular believe, of all his peanut products, peanut butter is not one of them. Following the devastation of the cotton crops in 1892 due to boll weevils, Carver’s peanut products allowed the peanut industry to boom in America and save Southern farmers.
This work with peanuts led Carver directly to the House of Representatives where he testified before the Ways and Means Committee regarding peanut farmers and the peanut industry. Imported peanuts from China were greatly destabilizing the American peanut business. Therefore, representatives of the peanut industry wanted a tariff. In 1921, racial divisions were again at a peak following Progressive Democrat President Woodrow Wilson’s administration. Not only did he play a part in reviving the virtually dead Ku Klux Klan in 1913, he segregated government offices. (see ) Despite African Americans serving in Congress during Reconstruction, to have a black man appear before a House Committee as an expert witness at this time was unprecedented.
Upon seeing Carver enter the House Chambers, Southern congressmen began mocking him. Unintimidated, Carver shared his knowledge of crop rotation, the addition of new crops, the explosion of yield, and the hundreds of uses he developed for those cash crops. Before concluding, the Chairman asked Carver:
“Dr. Carver, how did you learn all of these things?”
Carver responded, “From an old book.”
Puzzled, the Chairman asked, “Does the Bible tell about peanuts?”
“No, sir, but it tells about the God who made the peanuts. I asked Him to show me what to do with the peanut, and He did.”
At the end of his testimony, which time was extended multiple times by the Representatives, Carver received a standing ovation. The following year, Congress passed the Fordney-McCumber Tarriff on imported goods, including peanuts. Not only did Carver become a public figure because of his testimony, he earned the name, “The Peanut Man.”
When asked, Carver eagerly admitted his inspiration came from one place: his faith in Jesus Christ. Believing God and science go hand in hand, Carver proclaimed: “Man, who needed a purpose, a mission, to keep him alive, had one. He could be…God’s coworker…My purpose alone must be God’s purpose - to increase the welfare and happiness of His people…Why, then, should we who believe in Christ be so surprised at what God can do with a willing man in a laboratory?”
Mariah Watkins told Carver, “You must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people.” Traveling the country and the world, Carver promoted his school, peanuts, and racial harmony, while educating Third World countries. Not only did business leaders seek his advice, he met three American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt (see ), Calvin Coolidge (see ), and Franklin Roosevelt. He also met with world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and the Crown Prince of Sweden. In 1937, Henry Ford invited Carver to speak at a conference in Dearborn, Michigan, which resulted in a lasting friendship. (see )
A very thrifty man, Carver accumulated $60,000, equivalent to over a million in today’s market, by his 70’s. He used his savings to establish two legacies. In Austin, Texas, he established the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. It not only included all his agricultural work, it also housed several of his own paintings and drawings. Unfortunately, a fire in December 1947 destroyed most of his collection. To ensure future agricultural research, Carver also created the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee University.
Never marrying, Carver remained at Tuskegee University until his death. On January 5, 1943, he died at the age of 78 from complications due to a fall down a flight of stairs at the dormitory. He was laid to rest on the grounds of Tuskegee University next to Booker T. Washington. The epitaph on his tombstone reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”
At the time of his death, only former presidents George Washington (see ) and Abraham Lincoln (see ) had been granted their own monuments. Following Carver’s death, Pres. Roosevelt signed a bill granting him a monument in Diamond, Missouri, Carver’s hometown. Other honors include stamps and military vessels bearing his name.
Liberty, a man born into slavery and raised by white German immigrants, Carver knew very little of his parents and his early years. Regardless, he refused to be a victim and let his past dictate or affect his future. Instead, Carver pushed forward, doing everything he could to help people and make life better for them. As a result, he joined the ranks of Wentworth Cheswell (see ), Phillis Wheatley (see ), Benjamin Banneker (see ), Hiram Rhodes Revels (see ), Robert Smalls (see ), Joseph Hayne Rainey (see ), Frederick Douglass (see ), Booker T. Washington (see ), John Rock (see ), Harriet Ann Jacobs (see ), John Marrant (see ), and countless others in shattering the “black man is not intelligent” myth so accepted in those days.
Wherever your life leads you, whatever path you take, God is right there with you. Like Carver, just ask Him for His guidance. Carver did not seek fame and fortune, he sought God’s purpose. As a result, he changed the world with peanuts, proving with God, all things are possible.
That’s my 2 cents.
THE PEANUT MAN